Water officials implore state to phase in dioxane regulations

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The Nassau County Executive and Legislative Building as seen in Garden City. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

While many Long Island water consumers have fears about the health effects of the  contaminant 1,4-dioxane, water officials also worry about the impacts proposed regulations will have on their ability to supply water. 

The Nassau County Legislature Planning, Development and Environment Committee hosted a 1,4-dioxane hearing on Monday night where water officials implored the state to phase in the proposed maximum contaminant level of 1 part per billion for the contaminant. 

The contaminant is a solvent often used in the manufacturing of other chemicals and has been classified by the EPA as a likely carcinogen. 

In December, the state Drinking Water Quality Council recommended a maximum contaminant level of 1 part per billion. In July, the state health commissioner ordered the  state Health Department to begin the process of adopting the recommended regulation. 

Donald Irwin of the Nassau County Department of Health told the Legislature that if the regulations are to be implemented by January, water authorities won’t be able to install the needed treatment infrastructure in time, a process that takes a minimum of two to three years. 

The only approved treatment in the state for 1,4-dioxane is an advanced oxidation process, whose installation is estimated to cost $15 million for water systems serving over 10,000 people, he said. The annual operating costs are estimated at $725,000. 

Irwin said that water departments will not be able to issue the same amount of water to residents and will have to impose strict water use restrictions. He said water pressure will drop and there will be less water reserved for firefighting needs. 

Dennis Kelleher of H2M Engineers in Melville, who is a member of the Long Island Water Conference, said the 1,4-dioxane crisis is the worst he has seen in his 40 years in the industry. 

Officials also requested that the state Health Department take the lead in providing public education concerning the health risks associated with low-level contamination of 1,4-dioxane and short-term effects of drinking water above the maximum contamination level until the compliance date. 

Kelleher said that water departments do not plan on delivering water in violation of the maximum contaminant level and are considering action plans such as a blending of wells to produce water below the maximum contaminant level, sharing water between water suppliers, deepening wells and constructing new wells. 

“The water suppliers of Long Island find it hard to believe that the New York State Health Department can establish an MCL that may have an effective date that is less than one year from now,” he said, “knowing that water suppliers need at least two to three years to construct a treatment system.” 

Kelleher said the Garden City Park Water District, Town of Hempstead Water Department and Port Washington Water District are Long Island’s water districts that will be the most heavily impacted by the regulations. 

Democratic county legislators all signed a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo requesting that he sign legislation mandating the removal of 1,4-dioxane from all personal care products in the state. 

Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said a study launched by the organization on 80 household products found high numbers of 1,4-dioxane in most of the products ranging from high to low quality. 

She said higher-priced products do not have less of the contaminant. Of all the products studied, Esposito said Victoria’s Secret products were found to have the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane. 

“Her secret is, she’s trying to kill us,” Esposito said.

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