Two state initiatives announced this year to examine the probable carcinogen 1,4-dioxane, which is found in trace amounts in Long Island’s water supply, are facing setbacks wrought by politics and technology.
Establishment of a Drinking Water Quality Council that was to occur in June and hold a public hearing to discuss setting a drinking water standard for the chemical has lagged because two of the panel’s 12 members have not been nominated.
In a related matter, an effort to determine if discharges from Laundromats are contributing to 1,4-dioxane concentrations in water supplies has been delayed, first by business owners who did not meet a state order to test for the man-made chemical and then by testing that the state says was inadequate.
“They came out of the chute like a racehorse and now the racehorse stopped for a long lunch,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Farmingdale-based organization that pressed for the Laundromat testing and other initiatives related to 1,4-dioxane contamination.
In January, Newsday reported that in a nationwide survey of drinking water suppliers a well in Hicksville detected the highest concentration in the nation of 1,4-dioxane, which is not federally regulated.
Additionally, 71 percent of districts tested on Long Island detected levels of the chemical that posed a 1-in-a-million cancer risk after prolonged exposure, compared with nearly 7 percent nationwide.
The state took several actions, including expansion of sampling for 1,4-dioxane at Superfund sites and a call in February for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set a national regulation. The EPA demurred, saying the state could take action on its own.
Creation of the Drinking Water Quality Council was included in the $163 billion state budget passed in April and signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The next month, the state Department of Health said a public hearing would be held on Long Island to discuss the panel’s tasks, chief among them advising the health commissioner on a regulation for 1,4-dioxane.
Nominations to the council — state officials, scientists and water representatives — were allocated to the governor, state agencies, the Assembly and the Senate.
The Senate has not nominated its two candidates. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) submitted his choices July 12, spokesman Michael Whyland said.
The desire for the council’s membership to reflect the entire state and the diversity of water issues, in groundwater and in surface water, are said to be adding to the delay.
A source familiar with the situation said Cuomo’s office has been asking the Senate for its appointees and is “increasingly frustrated by the holdup.”
Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the appointees should be submitted soon. “We have some more work to do, but we’re close to being done with our internal process,” Reif said.
Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the June public hearing date probably was too optimistic. “I don’t sense any retreat from a commitment that was made earlier,” he said.
Englebright urged quick action.
“We’re going to need their advice as we go into the next session,” he said. “This should be sooner rather than later that the board starts to meet.”
Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes said that when the council is complete, an initial meeting will be set “expeditiously.”
Esposito said she hopes things get back on track, especially the Laundromat testing.
In January, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said it was requiring some Laundromats to conduct short-term sampling for 1,4-dioxane as part of approving discharge permits.
The rule applied to facilities in Farmingville, Islip, Lake Ronkonkoma, Saint James and Smithtown. Those businesses did not comply until notices of violations and possible fines were sent out.
Documents obtained by Newsday under the state’s Freedom of Information Law specified potential fines of up to $37,500 per day for each violation, plus an additional $37,500 for each day a violation continues.
Four laundomats had tests done, with results showing that 1,4-dioxane was not detected in discharge. DEC officials said the testing methods were not acceptable. The state now is working with the Laundromats to find proper labs to do the work.
“We want valuable data,” a DEC official said. “We want accurate data. We’ve taken a pause to ensure we have the right labs lined up.”
Evelyn Velez, an owner of Laundry Place in Farmingville, said she had an outside lab submit test results to the DEC and believes the business has complied with the permit.
“Whatever we’ve had to do, we’ve done it,” Velez said, adding, “I understand their position. They’re trying to protect the groundwater.”