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Group warns against toxins in drinking water

A portion of the map showing Nassau and Suffolk County water districts affected by the contamination. (Image Courtesy of Citizens Campaign for the Environment)

A report by the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) reveals elevated levels of a possible carcinogen in water districts throughout Long Island.

Found in various personal-care products, the cancer-causing chemical, 1,4-dioxane, is listed as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And according to CCE, Long Islander water supplies have the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane in the nation.

In response to the findings, the group has devised an interactive map at www.citizenscampaign.org/campaigns.dioxane.asp so that residents can investigate contamination levels in their local groundwater.

According to the map, the Massapequa Water District was among the water districts with no detectable levels of 1,4-dioxane. However, the South Farmingdale Water District, which serves North Massapequa and parts of Massapequa Park, had levels of 1,4-dioxane greater than the EPA’s cancer risk guideline.

“Though the cancer risk of 1,4-dioxane when digested through drinking water appears to be low, it is imperative that regulators make a determination quickly as to the potential danger and set a regulation,” said Francis J. Koch, superintendent of the South Farmingdale Water District. “And most important is the standard should be based upon the best science available.”

“One thing that every Long Islander can do is avoid products containing dioxane,” CCE said in a statement. “While dioxane itself is not listed on the label, it occurs as a byproduct of processing certain ingredients, and those ingredients are often listed.”

Cancer-causing chemical 1,4-dioxane is found in detergents and other products.

Two of the most common at-risk ingredients are “sodium laureth sulfate” and “potassium laureth phosphate.” Other commonly used ingredients associated with 1,4-dioxane contamination include PEG, polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, myreth, oleth, laureth and ceteareth. Other than these, look for any ingredients with “-eth” or “-oxynol” in their names.

Dioxane gets into the water through products that contain it, including laundry detergent, soap, shampoo and body wash, according to CCE’s report. That report reveals that up to 46 percent of personal-care products contain the chemical, which is not added to consumer goods but rather is an unwanted byproduct of ethoxylation—a process used to reduce skin irritation caused by petroleum-based ingredients. Once in the groundwater and soil, the report stated, it is hard to remove and known as a “legacy” pollution—pollution left behind from past industrial activities—and is also a source of dioxane contamination.

“While avoiding products in our personal lives is a good first step, we need New York state to act now to prevent further exposure to dioxane through our drinking water,” CCE said. “Right now, there is no federal health-based drinking water standard for dioxane, even though the EPA considers ingestion from drinking water to be the most dangerous route of exposure for dioxane.”

To that end, senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer recently announced legislation that would require the EPA to develop a maximum contaminate level for 1,4-dioxane and other hazardous chemicals in public water systems. As 1,4-dioxane is currently unregulated in the Safe Water Drinking Act, this legislation would require the EPA to create safety guidelines and determine legally enforceable standards that apply to water systems.

“We’ve seen very clearly how much damage can happen to our local drinking water supplies when toxic chemicals like PFOA, PFOS, 1,4-dioxane, and perchlorate aren’t monitored by the EPA,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “New Yorkers should be able to drink water without having to worry about whether it’s safe. Anything less than that standard is unacceptable.”

In January, Schumer and Gillibrand called on the EPA to prioritize and accelerate the risk evaluation for 1,4-dioxane. Schumer also urged Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics to work proactively with federal and state environmental officials to define and clean up another contamination in Hoosick Falls, NY.

“With the recent incidents of contaminated drinking water in New York, it’s crystal clear that we need a maximum contaminant level set by the EPA for perfluorinated compounds like PFOA/PFOS, 1,4-dioxane and perchlorate,” said Schumer. “I will use every ounce of my clout to work with my colleagues in the Senate and make sure this common sense public health bill to ensure safe drinking water is passed.”

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Steve Mosco is the senior managing editor at Anton Media Group, editor of Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald and a columnist for Long Island Weekly‘s food and sports sections.

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