Dawn Wladyka, a mother of three, dreads bath time in her Malverne home. Turning on the faucet sometimes turns on the "water works"' in her kids, as they protest plunging into the brown, putrid-looking fluid that often fills her tub.
"It is pretty much always like this," she says of the murky tap water that has become common in her home.
Not only is the color offensive, but it has left behind a rust-colored residue on the bottom of the tub, and has raised concerns about whether the water is safe for her family, including her two dogs, to ingest.
(CHECK OUT the PHOTOS AND VIDEO to see for yourself.)
For the past five years, she and her husband have called in servicemen to look at the problem, experimented with filters and draining tanks and even considered replacing their hot water heater – but they were told there is nothing wrong with the one currently in their home.
Wladyka, who once enjoyed taking baths before moving to her home in Malverne, now opts for a quick shower because she can not bring herself to soak in the brown water. Even her young kids have started to protest.
"My kids are now old enough to be disgusted by the color of the water that they bathe in," Wladyka said. She told Patch her breaking point was when her youngest daughter was brought to tears because she didn't want to wash in the dirty-looking bath water. Her mother doesn’t blame her, adding, “It’s gross!”
This weekend, Wladyka learned that she is not alone.
In the past 48 hours, over 100 residents of Malverne and neighboring Lynbrook have joined a Facebook group named "I love Malverne but hate the brown water (From LI Water)."
The group, started by Malverne resident and former Civic President Tom Grech, asks residents to share their stories about dealing with the repulsive water running through their homes and plans to circulate a petition that would be presented to Long Island American Water, the supplier.
Grech, also a parent and 10-year village resident, has observed brown water and particles coming out of the faucets in his basement, kitchen and bathroom, for years and has noticed that it has only gotten worse.
“We get very fine sediment that comes out in the bathtub and sink when we run the hot water," he said in an interview this week.
He’s even witnessed the cold water coming out of his sink turn the revolting brown color too, although like most of the members of the Facebook group and residents interviewed by Patch, the problem occurs more frequently when running hot water. “My wife refuses to use tap water for any drinking purpose,” he added.
While disgusted by the situation in his own home, Grech didn’t realize the scope of the problem until he became president of the Malverne Civic Association. In 2009, while serving in the leadership position, he received numerous complaints from residents living in the village about the state of their drinking water, many whose experiences were worse than his. It prompted him to send a letter on behalf of them all to the President of Long Island American Water Company, Bill Varley.
“Varley was great,” Grech said. “He called me back and said they were building a water treatment plant” to address the problem, which he learned was high levels of naturally-occurring iron in the water.
The $7.5 million iron removal plant, located on Franklin Avenue (It’s the building located near the Malverne DPW and .) opened in late October 2010 with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony and a tour of the facility. ( to see the video.)
“Iron has always been an issue in area…it’s an issue for everyone living on the South Shore, but primarily for those in the western [part],” Varley told Patch in an interview on Monday. “It’s naturally occurring, it’s not a health hazard, but it is a nuisance.”
Varley explained that iron levels do rise over time and when they reach certain levels, they need to be treated.
“About four years ago, we took an aggressive approach,” he said, adding that the plant they opened in Malverne is their sixth iron treatment facility and they have plans to open a seventh in the area. It is capable of filtering out some of the iron from 4 million gallons of water.
The only problem is that despite what most residents believe it hasn’t been put into use yet.
“We’re trying to get past this last little hurdle,” Varley said.
As he explained, the tanks that filter out the water have been painted with a protective coating that needs to cure completely before the Nassau County Health Department can give Long Island American Water the green light to begin operating them.
“We’ve been having some difficulty,” Varley said, adding that the company continues to sample the water in the tanks and send it to the health department, but tests keep coming back showing some residual from tank’s coating is still present.
“The plant should’ve been on line a month ago,” Varley said, explaining that the curing process is taking longer than anticipated. “The main objective is that the water is safe and we have to make sure all criteria is met with the health department…we just have to keep sampling it. Be patient, help is on the way.”
Varley admitted that the company should have reached out to residents to inform residents about the setbacks. “I completely understand where customers are coming from.”
He said he plans to attend the next village board meeting to address residents’ concerns, but as of now, he still does not have a definite start date for the plant to begin functioning. “It could be a week or it could be a couple weeks,” he added.
When the plant does go on line, he says, residents can expect to see a dramatic improvement in their water.
Right now, the brown tinge and residue they are seeing is iron. Long Island American Water treats the water with siliciates to sequester the iron, meaning that it binds it to the H20 so it isn’t visible. (According to Varley, siliciates are commonly used and approved by the Nassau County Department of Health.) However, over 120 degrees this chemical will start to break down, which is why most residents report seeing the putrid color when running hot water. The residue appearing in some peoples’ sinks and tubs is also sediments of iron that collect at the bottom of people’s tanks and when water levels are low it can get into the pipes.
“Once we get the plant up and running you will see a noticeable change,” Varley said.
He also says those residents that have tried to address the problem on their own by purchasing filtration systems, can also expect to see improvements in the lifespan of their filters.
"They’re filtering out some of the same iron we’re going to be filtering out, but we’ll be doing it on a bigger level,” Varley said.
Bill Coogan, a 13-year Malverne resident who lives down the block from the new iron treatment plant, has spent hundreds of dollars on a whole house filtration system for his home. Like so many residents he too was struck by the “gross” water that he was using to bathe his two kids, and he even noticed it was causing his family’s laundry to look dingy.
“I always had brown water coming out of the pipes,” he said, but unlike many of the other residents who joined Grech’s Facebook group, Coogan, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, knew the cause was iron build-up.
About every two months he spends $80 on two filters for his system, which cost about $200 to install. The cartridges are supposed to last up to six months, but the high iron levels in water coming to his home, shorten their life span significantly.
In fact, he has had to switch to a more porous type of filter that allows more sediment to creep into his water supply because the more stringent ones were clogging after only two weeks and driving up his expenses.
The first time he pulled one of these filters out about nine months ago, it was covered in a brown slime. “It was just disgusting,” said Coogan, who was prompted to take a drive over the Long Island American Water’s headquarters in Lynbrook to show them what his filter had caught.
Coogan said Varley himself saw him waiting in the office and asked if he could help him.
“I held up this nasty thing and talked with him for 40 minutes” Coogan said. “He brought in one of his lead engineers…and they were touting this new filtration plant they were building on Franklin Avenue.”
Coogan also received the tutorial on the water’s naturally occurring iron levels and the chemical process the company uses to prevent the iron from coming out as particulate.
“By doing that, it allows them to pass the water quality standards for the amount of iron in the water,” Coogan said. “They chemically treat the water to keep the iron in solution so as not to see it.”
While some residents have been instructed to keep their hot water heaters below 120 degrees to prevent undoing this process, Coogan said this solution is “unacceptable.”
“That’s not a valid thing to tell people they can’t heat their water over 120 degrees,” he said. “The company has a moral obligation to give us water that’s clean. That water might meet minimal standards for water quality, but that brown stuff coming out looks dirty.”
Like Coogan, Grech is also not satisfied with these “scientific explanations,” he says. “I’m not going to accept that it’s just the way it is, that it’s in our house, that it’s the home…it’s going to need to be addressed by Long Island Water at the highest level.”
Grech plans to circulate a petition both online and by recruiting volunteers to help him go door-to-door with a paper version, and look into having the water independently test.
“Bottom line is that it’s water. It’s a basic element. There should not be a scientific explanation for brown, rusty water or sediment in tap water,” he says. “No one wants to know the science behind it. I’m not a scientist – I just want clean water.”
Varley assures residents, “We’re going to keep addressing iron issue, because it’s not going to go away.”