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Controversial compound present in water


A suspected carcinogen in Suffolk County water from some personal care and household cleaning products could affect Shelter Island’s water supply.

The Suffolk County and New York State health departments are “hot on it,” according to John Hallman, former chairman of the Water Advisory Committee who has his own commercial water testing business. But there’s no push from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the use of 1,4 dioxane, Mr. Hallman said.

He’s had little call for testing for the presence of the industrial solvent on the Island, but speculated that within a year or two the EPA could move to regulate it.

“We don’t know if it’s an issue,” Mr. Hallman said, adding that it’s getting attention from health departments, legislators and others in the past year.

According to multiple studies, New York State is concerned about the synthetic compound seeping into water supplies. Attention is greater in Suffolk County with higher levels of 1,4 dioxane found in water samples here than in the rest of the state.

Studies among people whose occupations exposed them to 1,4 dioxane showed symptoms of nausea, drowsiness, headaches, and eye, nose and throat irritations. Liver and kidney effects were observed in laboratory animals after long-term exposure to water tainted with the substance, with some animals developing cancer, according to a June 2015 Suffolk County Department of Health Services report.

The report warned that adverse health effects in animals after high levels of exposure may pose a risk to humans exposed to lower levels of 1,4 dioxane.

“Therefore the U,S. EPA classifies 1,4 dioxane ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans’ based on the results of animal studies,” the report said.

The State Health Department has not set any standard for 1,4 dioxane, but is reviewing the substance to determine if a standard should be set.

The Suffolk County Water Authority is exploring methods to remove 1,4 dioxane from drinking water.
The county water authority has been testing for the substance since 2003. Its data show that 1,4 dioxane has been detected in about 272 public water supply wells. The county has been blending water from various sources to try to dilute the concentration.

Shelter Island doesn’t draw its water from the county water authority, but that doesn’t mean there’s no danger here, according to experts from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization with a stated mission to protect human health.

In a EWG study just released, the organization of scientists, lawyers and communications experts said drinking water — even drinking water from wells such as those on Shelter Island — can become affected through wastewater discharges and other toxic wastes.

Islanders concerned about their private wells can have the water tested under the stated Environmental Laboratory Approval Program. Two labs are suggested for the Island, Holbrook’s Long Island Analytical Laboratories and Pace Analytical Services in Melville. The former has been doing the recent testing of water samples from Fresh Pond.

But even if well water is currently showing no presence of 1,4 dioxane, users of various personal care and household products could be contributing to an eventual problem, according to EWG. That’s because many products that contain 1,4 dioxane are being washed down drains. The substance doesn’t dissolve readily, but stays until removed, according to the EWG study.

To make matters worse, if you’re using any of the shampoos, body wash gels or cleaning products, paint strippers or other products that contain 1,4 dioxane, you’re not likely to see the substance listed as an ingredient.

The EWG advises avoiding products that contain polyethylene, polyethylene glycol, polyoxyethylene, polyoxynolethylene and chemicals ending in “eth” or “oxynol.” The group also recommends that consumers let legislators know their concerns to move the EPA to take a hard line, banning the use of 1,4 dioxane.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has urged the Food and Drug Administration to take immediate action to require companies to strip the chemical entirely from consumer products such as shampoos, shower gels and lotions. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has joined Mr. Schumer in the call for banning the substance.