Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, state and Suffolk County officials on Saturday pressed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a drinking water standard for 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen found in trace amounts throughout Long Island’s drinking water supply.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation said it will expand New York’s Superfund program to require that all hazardous waste sites be evaluated for the man-made chemical, a manufacturing solvent that is also found in detergents, shampoos, deodorants and other products.
The announcement came after state officials, politicians, activists, and water industry professionals met at Stony Brook University’s Center for Clean Water Technology. Several of those in attendance co-signed a letter Cuomo wrote to acting EPA Administrator Catherine McCabe, asking her to regulate 1,4-dioxane nationally and invest in treatment technology.
State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said New York will give the EPA about three months to respond before moving to set its own safe drinking water standard.
“This is a national issue and the federal government needs to step up and provide clear guidance to states on how to address 1,4-dioxane,” Cuomo said in a statement to Newsday. “If they don’t act, we will.”
Every five years the EPA selects up to 30 unregulated contaminants for suppliers to test for in order to get a picture of how prevalent they may be and at what concentrations. It’s one way the federal agency decides whether to set a drinking water standard.
Last month, Newsday reported that 1,4-dioxane had been found in 71 percent of water districts sampled on Long Island at a level that poses a one-in-a-million cancer risk after a lifetime of prolonged exposure, according to the EPA data.
Nationwide, the same risk was reported in only 7 percent of water supplies tested as part of an EPA survey of all large suppliers and a sampling of smaller suppliers.
The highest hit in the nation — 33 parts per billion — was detected in a Hicksville Water District well, which is now used for emergency purposes only. New York State has a standard of 50 parts per billion for all unregulated organic chemicals, which includes 1,4-dioxane. It does not have a specific health-based limit for the chemical.
“Emerging contaminants such as 1,4-dioxane are something we shouldn’t have to be messing with,” said Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket), who chairs the environmental conservation committee. “The federal government is not keeping up with the frequency of the insults to our water supply.”
DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek Gallagher said adding additional sampling of Superfund sites will help detect legacy contamination, as well as identify new sources.
It’s unclear how many Superfund sites may have 1,4-dioxane contamination. But in 2014, the EPA said the chemical was likely present in water supplies where chlorinated solvents such as 1,1,1-trichloropropane, or TCA, is found. A 2013 Newsday analysis found that TCA is present at nearly 50 state and federal Superfund sites on Long Island.
The call for a national standard and the expanded Superfund testing is key, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environmment, a not-for-profit based in Farmingdale.
“The quicker we act, the more people we are going to protect,” she said. “We need to prevent further contamination and we need to clean up what’s there.”
Water suppliers say that even if the cancer risk is low, they are concerned because there is no state-permitted removal method.
The Suffolk County Water Authority will start a pilot removal system in April but will likely need at least a year of data to show if the treatment works.
“We believe this is going to work very well,” Zucker said of the pilot.
The state has also awarded the Center for Clean Water Technology $5 million to research new treatment methods and work with water suppliers.
In the past month, DEC began a pilot program to monitor how much 1,4-dioxane is released into groundwater from coin-operated laundries; state Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) filed a bill that would require the state Department of Health to assess the risks of 1,4-dioxane; and both of New York’s senators called on the EPA to speed up a health risk study of 1,4-dioxane.