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Bill seeks regulation of chemical in drinking water

This well pump at the Hicksville Water District's

This well pump at the Hicksville Water District's pump station on Newbridge Road, shown on Dec. 22, 2016, was taken offline because the contaminant 1,4-dioxane was discovered in the water. Officials said it will remain offline unless needed for emergency use. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky has filed a bill that orders the state to study the health effects of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water and set a regulation to limit exposure to the man-made chemical.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate 1,4-dioxane, although the agency considers it a possible carcinogen.

Newsday and News 12 Long Island reported last week that 71 percent of Long Island water suppliers detected levels of 1,4-dioxane that pose a 1-in-1-million chance of getting cancer after prolonged exposure. Nationally, 7 percent of water suppliers detected levels that pose the same cancer risk.

“It’s obviously raised cause for concern, and I think we should be proactive here,” said Kaminsky, of Long Beach, a Democrat who recently was named ranking member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

The bill would require the state health commissioner to undertake a health review and set a maximum concentration level allowed by law that public water suppliers would have to follow. The bill, filed last week, has been assigned to the Health Committee.

In a statement Tuesday, the state Department of Health said it would review the legislation and work with stakeholders.

“New York State remains committed to addressing unregulated contaminants in drinking water such as 1,4-dioxane in absence of federal action,” the statement said.

Every five years, the EPA requires all large water districts and a sampling of small systems to test for up to 30 chemicals that are not regulated but could pose health risks. The intent is to gauge the prevalence of the contaminants and whether a regulation would significantly protect public health.

EPA public affairs officials Tuesday would not say whether the agency has taken any action or plans to take action regarding 1,4-dioxane.

Kaminsky said, “If we wait for the EPA, it’s a real mistake. I think New York should join other states that have dioxane rules.”

A handful of states have regulations, limits or advisory levels for 1,4-dioxane. Massachusetts has a guideline of 0.3 parts per billion and California advises that wells should be removed from service at 35 parts per billion.

EPA survey results released in August showed that Long Island water suppliers exceeded the national average for traces of 1,4-dioxane, with the Hicksville Water District detecting the highest concentration in the nation at 33 parts per billion. That Hicksville well is only used for emergencies.

While the cancer risk is considered low, water suppliers are concerned because there is no approved method in New York to remove the chemical.

Dennis Kelleher, spokesman for the Long Island Water Conference, a coalition of more than 50 water suppliers and industry representatives, said water suppliers would be amenable to the setting of a regulation, but “we need time to react and make sure we have the proper treatment in place.”

Kelleher, president of the engineering and consulting firm H2M Water in Melville, added that the state already has authority to regulate water beyond federal standards. “We question why we really need a bill to get the Health Department to do its job,” he said.

The state recently approved a Suffolk County Water Authority pilot program to test a new technology to remove 1,4-dioxane. The pilot should be running in April, but it will take about a year before the water authority can go back to the Health Department for final approval for its use.

“I think we need to be having a conversation about setting a limit while we are working on treatment plans,” Kaminsky said.

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