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Governor signs bill banning products with chemical 1,4-dioxane, starting in 2022

"As emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane continue to show up in water systems around the country, in New York we are taking aggressive action to keep our drinking water clean and safe," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seen May 12, said in a statement Monday. Credit: Charles Eckert

Household cleaning products with the chemical 1,4-dioxane will no longer be sold in the State of New York under a bill signed Monday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The ban, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2022, also covers some cosmetic and personal care products with specific levels of the chemical, which has been found across Long Island in drinking water wells.

“As emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane continue to show up in water systems around the country, in New York we are taking aggressive action to keep our drinking water clean and safe,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The chemical is classified as a likely carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It has been found at highest levels near former industrial sites, where the man-made chemical was used as a solvent for stabilizers and degreasers. The chemical also has been found in shampoos, detergents and body washes as the byproduct of the manufacturing process.

Industry representatives have warned the legislation could result in popular brands being pulled off store shelves, leading to higher prices.

“The Household & Commercial Products Association is clearly disappointed that Governor Cuomo chose to sign this bill, as it will have no measurable benefit to groundwater,” Steve Caldeira, the association's president and CEO, said in a statement.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), was lobbied by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a Farmingdale-based advocacy group that tested 80 common household items such as laundry detergent, shampoo and body wash for 1,4-dioxane.

The group discovered that 65 of the products they tested in 2018 and 2019 contained the chemical. Products with the highest levels included shower gels from Victoria’s Secret, Tide Original laundry detergent and Dreft Stage 1/Newborn baby laundry detergent.

“It sends a clear message to the industry that clean water is a priority,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The public can choose a different laundry soap, but we cannot choose a different water source. [The] industry needs to figure out a formula for products that will clean our clothes and shampoo our hair without cancer-causing chemicals.”

A federal survey of water districts found 1,4-dioxane is more prevalent in Long Island’s water than any other location in the state and exceeds the national average. Higher levels of 1,4-dioxane, which was used in solvents, were detected near former industrial sites.

New York State Department of Health officials proposed new drinking water standards for three chemicals, including 1,4-dioxane, in July. The standard of 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane is the nation's first level set for that contaminant. The state said last week it is reviewing almost 5,000 comments on the proposed standards.

“In the absence of federal standards to limit the spread of this harmful contaminant, this new law builds on our efforts to protect and preserve our drinking water resources from these unregulated chemicals that threaten the health of New Yorkers and the environment,” Cuomo said in the statement.

Industry representatives said the new law is unnecessary because the level of 1,4-dioxane is already low and that contamination in groundwater comes from past industrial practices rather than their products. 

“The 1,4-dioxane residue from your laundry detergent isn’t the cause of the situation on Long Island,” Caldeira said. “Cleaning products are used everywhere, and it’s not an everywhere problem. Efforts should instead focus on addressing Long Island’s specific water quality issues — the contamination caused by former industrial and military facilities, which is widely recognized as the area’s largest groundwater pollution source.”

Owen Caine, the association’s executive vice president of government relations and public policy, said the group's lawyers will review the new legislation, but he does not anticipate fighting it in court. He said the law will make it tougher for companies to offer concentrated products such as dishwasher and laundry pods.

“A lot of members moved to concentrated products because of sustainability — you are using less water and you are not shipping water,” Caine said. “It’s going to be hard to sell concentrated products with the levels [of 1,4-dioxane] dictated by the new law.”

Kaminsky said he believes companies can reformulate their products to remove the chemical without undue burden or hardship.

Eliminating the chemical from household items is good for public health and could go a long way toward helping municipal water supplies meet the new stringent drinking water standards, he said.

“In the last few years, Long Islanders have really woken up to the very serious problem of emerging contaminants in our water,” Kaminsky said. “We can’t continue to poison our water supply. We need to take this head on.” 

ABOUT 1,4-DIOXANE

The chemical 1,4-dioxane is considered a likely human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It has been associated with liver and kidney damage and has been found widely on Long Island. It’s a top concern of drinking water providers because it is not removed through conventional treatment methods.

The man-made chemical is found in industrial solvents and in trace amounts in cosmetics, detergents, shampoos and other home care products.

SOURCE: Newsday research

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