News Feature | January 18, 2017

New York Struggles With 1,4-Dioxane In Drinking Water

Dominique 'Peak' Johnson

By Peak Johnson

Long Island, NY, has a growing problem with its drinking water. In August, the U.S. EPA released a survey that showed 1,4-dioxane, a manmade chemical, contaminated the island’s water and exceeded the national average.

1,4-dioxane emerges in the creation of personal care products such as “cosmetics, toothpaste, shampoo, and deodorants through a process known as ethoxylation, which is conducted to make these products less abrasive and increase their foaming.” The compound has been classified as a carcinogen by the EPA.

“Once down the drain, the chemical is highly mobile in soil and does not easily break down, leading to contamination of groundwater-fed water sources, also known as aquifers or artesian wells,” Harry Somma, the Long Island program coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), said. CCE is leading a fight to establish safe drinking water standards for 1,4-dioxane in New York.

Last month, CCE called on New York State to create a health-based safe drinking water standard to protect consumers. The Suffolk County Legislature sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo calling on the state’s department of health to create the standard.

According to Newsday, there is no state approved method to remove 1,4-dioxane. The survey found levels of cancer “that would probably generate the increased risk in 71 percent of water-supply systems tested on Long Island, compared with only 7 percent of the systems nationally.”

At 33 ppb, the highest concentration of 1,4-dioxane was found in a well in 2013 by the Hicksville Water District. Officials restricted the use of that well, which made it the first to be taken out of operation. The well is one of 15 the district uses to serve its 16,000 accounts.

The EPA survey covered 28 public water districts serving 2.97 million people on Long Island, where the main source of water is connected through a network of underground aquifers accessed by both public and private wells.

Newsday reported that Long Island state officials are having a difficult time in deciding “the best course of action in the absence of a clear direction from the EPA.”

“We don’t even know what to do because we’re looking for EPA to take the next step,” Dennis Kelleher, president of the engineering and consulting firm H2M Water told Newsday. “That’s the uncomfortable situation we’re in right now.”

For the first time, 1,4-dioxane was included in an EPA survey program. The chemical is not regulated by the agency, so here is no national drinking water standard setting a level safe for consumption.

State officials are evaluating whether to set a specific limit for 1,4-dioxane.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Source Water Contamination Solutions Center.