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NY American Water detects 1,4 dioxane, another toxin in LI wells

New York American Water's office in Merrick.

New York American Water's office in Merrick. Credit: Danielle Silverman

New York American Water has detected 1,4 dioxane and another toxic compound in four water wells in its Long Island service areas affecting around 8,200 customers and  it will treat to remove the toxins and shut down one well, officials said Thursday.

New York American Water, which is in the process of selling its New York service territories to Liberty Utilities for $608 million, said it has sued the companies responsible for the contamination, and begun to notify residents this week of its findings and treatment plans. It’s a plaintiff in a suit against Dow Chemical, Vulcan Materials, Ferro Corp., Proctor & Gamble and Shell Oil.

New York American Water wells on Long Island where the 1,4 dioxane compound has been found include two in its Seamans Neck station in Levittown and one well in Roosevelt. A well in Glen Head detected the presence of another compound known as PFOS, at levels slightly above proposed state drinking water standards.

Water districts across Long Island are already moving to treat for 1,4 dioxane with costs that can top  $4 million per well. But those districts are eligible for government grants to recover costs, something  New York American Water currently is not. The company declined to detail anticipated costs. 

Still, New York American Water is seeking to defer the costs to remove the contaminants, where needed, until a future rate filing, said spokeswoman Lee Mueller.

The unspecified costs will be “captured separately and deferred to the next rate case,” she said. “Our goal is that our customers do not carry the burden of these treatment costs.”

The company said it detected the toxins in a round of sampling across its New York service areas late last year. Just four of 55 sites showed levels above proposed standards for the compounds.

In Roosevelt, the company’s Plant 16 showed 1,4 Dioxane at 1.2 parts per billion, slightly above the proposed standard of 1 part per billion. The company took the plant offline in October and it “won’t be placed back in service” until treatment is installed, Mueller said.

The two wells at Seamans Neck in Levittown showed 1,4 dioxane levels at 1.6 parts per billion, Mueller said. The company already has a partnership with the Navy, which is treating a nearby Grumman plume and “we are hopeful that treatment can be expanded to include 1,4 dioxane.” New York American Water is already designing and engineering a treatment for the toxin that could to be ready by fall, she said.

In Glen Head, the company’s systems detected 17.6 parts per trillion of PFOS. The proposed standard for PFOS is 10 parts per trillion. There, the company is “moving forward” with a granular activated-carbon filtration system with the hope of having it finalized by the time state regulations are in place, potentially by later summer or early fall.

“The health concern is paramount,” said Agatha Nadel, a Glen Head ratepayer and president of North Shore Concerned Citizens, which seeks to municipalize the company’s 4,500 Sea Cliff  service area customers. But she also expressed worries that a rumored $3 million price tag to address the Glen Head well’s toxins may not be the end. New York American Water wouldn’t specify a cost.

“It’s going to be in rates or another surcharge,” she said, “and I don’t believe the $3 million is the total cost.” She also doesn’t want a “quick-fix” to the problem.

David Denenberg, a utility watchdog at Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil, said the problem with the company’s plan to remediate is that, unlike municipal utilities, New York American Water can make a profit on its work.

“The game is they make a profit on it even when they’re doing remedial work,” said Denenberg.

Municipal water districts, he noted, are eligible for government grants to cover some of the costs.
Mueller said the company is advocating for investor-owned utilities to also be eligible for those funds.

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