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Hempstead sues chemical companies over water pollutants

Hempstead Town has sued three chemical companies over

Hempstead Town has sued three chemical companies over polluted water wells. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

The Town of Hempstead has filed a lawsuit against three chemical companies, seeking damages and remediation of water pollutants in wells that serve 120,000 residents.

The town filed the lawsuit late Friday against Dow Chemical, Ferro Corp. and Vulcan Materials Co. “to recover substantial costs necessary to protect the public and restore its damaged drinking water supply wells, which are contaminated by the toxic chemical 1,4-dioxane."

Hempstead is among at least 26 Long Island water providers and governments that have filed lawsuits in Eastern District federal court against 1,4-dioxane manufacturers and distributors.

The chemical is a likely carcinogen in industrial and commercial products, and was discharged near 29 active drinking wells across five water districts in the Town of Hempstead, according to the lawsuit.

“The defendants knowingly and willfully manufactured, promoted and/or sold products containing 1,4-dioxane that caused the contamination of the town’s wells,” the town’s lawsuit states.

Spokeswomen for Dow Chemical and Vulcan Materials said the Hempstead lawsuit and other lawsuits are without merit.

"Rather than go after the companies on Long Island directly responsible for the contamination, the water suppliers brought this suit against Dow even though Dow did not conduct any operations on Long Island that are a source of contamination," Ashley E. Mendoza of Dow Chemical said. 

Janet F. Kavinoky of Vulcan Materials said the company will seek to dismiss the lawsuits.

"There has been no evidence presented to support these allegations," she said.'

Representatives of Ferro Corp. did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit said wells were affected in five separate districts: Roosevelt Field Water District, East Meadow Water District, Uniondale Water District, Bowling Green Estates Water District and Levittown Water District.

There is no enforceable federal or state drinking standard for 1,4-dioxane, the lawsuit states, but all New York water systems have been required since 2017 to test for the chemical. The state has proposed standards, but has not yet finalized them.

Hempstead officials say 1,4-dioxane has been detected in varying amounts in town wells and they expect contamination to spread to groundwater.

Preliminary estimates for the technology and equipment required for removing 1,4-dioxane in Hempstead are about $40 million, officials said.

“The costs associated with cleaning up this mess should not be borne by our taxpayers,” Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen said.

Contamination from the man-made chemical, found in industrial solvents and in trace amounts in common household products, is expected to cost Long Island water providers $840 million to treat. Traditional water treatment methods don't remove 1,4-dioxane, which is designated a likely carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Chronic, lifelong exposure to 0.35 parts per billion of 1,4-dioxane represents a one-in-a-million cancer risk, according to the EPA. A panel of state health and environmental officials, water providers and academics last December recommended a drinking water standard of nearly three times that — 1 part per billion for 1,4-dioxane.

With David M. Schwartz

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