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Environmental group seeks actions to reduce chemical in water

At a press conference in Farmingdale on Tuesday,

At a press conference in Farmingdale on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, holds up copy of a copy of a report the group produced about the widespread prevalence of the contaminant 1,4-dioxane in many commercial products. The chemical has also been found in the water supply on many parts of Long Island. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A Farmingdale-based environmental group on Tuesday called for a number of actions to reduce human exposure to 1,4-dioxane, a probable carcinogen found in trace amounts throughout most of Long Island’s drinking water.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito said the goal was to protect public health and drinking water supplies by determining where the chemical is found, how it is released into the environment and preventing future pollution.

The actions range from labeling consumer products to setting a limit for contamination in drinking water to requiring manufacturers remove the man-made chemical from their products, according to the group’s report.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate the chemical, New York has set a limit of 50 parts per billion for all unregulated organic chemicals, including 1,4-dioxane.

A nationwide survey EPA released last year shows Long Island’s water had some of the highest concentrations of the chemical in the nation. The contaminant has been found in more than 70 percent of water supplies on Long Island at a level that poses a 1-in-1 million cancer risk after prolonged exposure. The findings ranged from undetectable to 33 parts per billion.

Esposito called on the state to set a specific drinking water standard for the chemical by the end of the year, and pointed out that other states like Massachusetts, California and Colorado have set guidelines or cleanup thresholds as low as 0.25 parts per billion.

“This is out of sync with other states that have evaluated this cancer-causing chemical,” she said during a news conference Tuesday at the organization’s headquarters.

While state officials have urged EPA to set a national standard for 1,4-dioxane, they have said New York will begin the process to set a specific standard for it if that agency doesn’t act.

Stan Carey, chairman of the Long Island Water Conference, a coalition of more than 50 water industry providers and professionals, said his organization supports a reasonable threshold, but “any standard must be based on sound science with consideration for cost to install the best available treatment to protect public health.”

Esposito’s group also released an interactive online mapping tool where residents can see if their water districts detected the chemical. The map and report are based on the the EPA survey, which the federal agency conducts every five years among all large water suppliers serving 10,000 or more people and 800 smaller water suppliers to get a glimpse of what unregulated contaminants could be in the water.

The group said that the federal survey only selected one small water supplier on Long Island for testing — leaving 22 other Island districts that serve more than 70,000 people collectively without answers about whether 1,4-dioxane is a concern.

They want EPA sampling extended to all districts, something Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has included funding for in his proposed state budget. Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) also has submitted a bill calling for the same.

The chemical is often used as a solvent in manufacturing, but also is thought to be in about 46 percent of consumer products, Citizens Campaign project coordinator Jordan Christensen said.

The group wants 1,4-dioxane to be clearly labeled on consumer products and for the Food and Drug Administration to require manufacturers to remove the chemical from products. Removal right now is voluntary.

“When we unwittingly use these products, our sewer and septic treatment systems are not designed to filter out 1,4-dioxane, which is how the contamination ends up in drinking and surface water resources,” she said.

The FDA has said removing the chemical during manufacturing is possible, but the extent to which it is currently done is unknown. That agency also has said human exposure via consumer products directly is low, according to a 2015 EPA paper on the chemical.

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