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Drinking Water Quality Council will ‘apply science’ to set standards

Members of the new state Drinking Water Quality

Members of the new state Drinking Water Quality Council met for the first time on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, at Stony Brook University and discussed contaminants and the risk they pose to the drinking water supply. Photo Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The man-made chemical 1,4-dioxane and the risks it could pose to the local drinking water supply were primary topics at the new state Drinking Water Quality Council’s first meeting, held Monday at Stony Brook University.

The 12-person committee of scientists, engineers, public health experts and water suppliers, created by statute as part of the current state budget, is tasked with making recommendations to the state health commissioner about safe levels of the chemical and addressing issues related to other contaminants.

“We intend to apply science to establish standards. We have the right people, right now, to help us get to that scientific level,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “Our task is a critical one. We want to protect the people of the State of New York and we need to apply science to make that happen.”

The panel’s timeline incorporates regular meetings in various parts of the state, with opportunity for public comment, and a one-year deadline to submit enforceable guidelines on three chemicals that are of top priority — including 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen.

The six-hour meeting was held at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center.

Seggos co-chairs the council with Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, who gave his opening remarks via webcast. Zucker noted the state must “chart its own course” in the absence of action by federal regulatory agencies, emphasizing the collective scientific expertise on the council.

“We’ll tap into that expertise as we address the wide array of emerging water quality issues,” Zucker said from a conference room in Manhattan. Brad Hutton, deputy health commissioner, led the meeting at SBU in place of Zucker.

Maximum levels of 1,4-dioxane in drinking water are not regulated by the federal government, and that is among the reasons state officials said they are seeking to establish their own guidelines. The chemical has been found in trace amounts in the Island’s groundwater supply, becoming a growing concern to health experts, Newsday reported in January.

A national survey last year showed that the highest detection in the nation of 1,4-dioxane was found in a Hicksville Water District well, which subsequently was taken offline.

In addition, 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 council also will focus on two perfluorinated compounds that are commonly used in firefighting foams and in such consumer products as nonstick pans, food packaging and carpeting. The two compounds are perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS.

Discussion of those likely will dominate the panel’s next meeting, to be held in the Albany region in November or December.

Contamination from those compounds prompted the state to add Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach and the Suffolk County Fire Academy in Yaphank to the state Superfund list.

The Drinking Water Quality Council was included in the state’s $163 billion budget that passed in April. The initial public hearing, which health officials had said would be held in June, was delayed as the council’s members were selected and vetted.

Several presentations during Monday’s meeting highlighted the various water regulations, the history of monitoring for contaminants, water treatment projects and debate on the extent of public health risk and toxicology.

“This is an important moment for our state,” said Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a supporter of the statute that created the council and chairman of the Assembly’s environmental conservation committee. “The last several years have caused a great deal of uncertainty — both outside of the state’s borders and within the state’s borders — over what’s coming out of the tap and whether it can be consumed reliably and safely.”

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