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Don’t delay standards for toxins in our water

This well pump at the Hicksville Water District's

This well pump at the Hicksville Water District's pump station on Newbridge Road in Hicksville was taken off line when the contaminant 1,4-dioxane was discovered in the well water. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

You can’t treat a problem without first knowing how big the problem is. So state health officials are to be commended for their urgency in dealing with the emerging threat to Long Island’s drinking water posed by the probable carcinogen 1,4-dioxane.

By forming a drinking-water council whose first task is to recommend safe levels of the chemical, the state is stepping into a vacuum: The federal government has yet to adopt a drinking-water standard for 1,4-dioxane, which has been found by nearly three-quarters of Long Island water suppliers, more than 10 times the national rate.

Now state officials must maintain their momentum. The sooner they set a standard — year’s end seems a reasonable goal — the sooner water providers can devise treatment. And the sooner the council can address other chemicals also lacking federal standards — like perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a man-made compound once used in fire suppression and linked to developmental effects on fetuses and cancer. PFOA has been found in enough private wells and monitoring wells in Yaphank and at concentrations high enough that the Suffolk County fire academy in that community is now a state Superfund site.

Next up for state officials: More clarity about the $2.5 billion for water quality in the new state budget. How much is available for treatment of 1,4-dioxane, PFOA and the like, and how to apply for it?

These steps are promising. But follow-through is essential.