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Dioxane

Suffolk County Legislator William "Doc" Spencer. File photo

By Donna Deedy

Suffolk County Water Authority and Suffolk County Legislator Dr. William “Doc” Spencer, chair of the legislature’s health committee, announced April 11 the imminent construction of a new Advanced Oxidation Process water treatment system to be installed at the authority’s Flower Hill Road pumping station in Halesite. The new system is designed to remove the currently unregulated contaminant 1,4-dioxane from drinking water. It will become the third new processing system for the county, joining the existing advanced system in Central Islip and another soon to be constructed system in East Farmingdale. 

The chemical 1,4-dioxane has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen associated with liver and kidney damage after a lifetime of exposure to contaminated drinking water. 

“Though this compound is not currently regulated at the federal or state level we’re proactively installing AOP treatment at priority locations,” water authority chairman Patrick Halpin said. “This pump station on Flower Hill Road was a priority for us given the levels of 1,4-dioxane detected by our laboratory.” 

The Flower Hill Road well field was selected because it had the third highest detection for 1,4-dioxane of all of the water authority’s well fields. The highest detections were in Central Islip, and the second highest in East Farmingdale. 

“This pump station on Flower Hill Road was a priority for us given the levels of 1,4-dioxane detected by our laboratory.”

— Patrick Halpin

“The emerging contaminant 1,4-dioxane has been a deep concern of mine as a local legislator. I am thankful for the Suffolk County Water Authority’s partnership and willingness to confront this complex water quality and safety issue,” said Spencer. “Their swift action to install this innovative technology at the Flower Hill pump station in Huntington, the third site in Suffolk County, demonstrates their ongoing commitment to protecting our drinking water.” 

The three wells at the Halesite pump station averaged a detection of 2.02 parts-per-billion of 1,4–dioxane, with well #1 having the highest detection at 3.84 PPB. The New York State Drinking Water Quality Council has recommended 1,4-dioxane be regulated statewide at a level of 1 PPB, but the state’s department of health has not yet enacted the  recommendation. 

The advanced process works by introducing an oxidant to the raw groundwater, in this case hydrogen peroxide, and then passing that mixture through an ultraviolet light reactor. The ultraviolet light reacts with the oxidant to destroy the 1,4-dioxane molecules. The water is ultimately passed through a carbon filter to remove the peroxide and any by-products from the reaction. 

Costs to install the new treatment system exceed $1 million, which does not include annual maintenance costs. In an effort to defray these expenses, the water authority filed in December 2017 a lawsuit against the chemical companies responsible for polluting Long Island’s sole source aquifer. 

In its 1,4-dioxane complaint, the water authority named Dow Chemical Company, Ferro Corporation, Vulcan Materials Corporation, Proctor & Gamble and Shell Oil Company, alleging that their products — primarily industrial degreasers, laundry detergents and other household products — are to blame for the contamination. 

 The suit also includes a complaint about two other contaminants, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS). The PFOS and PFOA claims were filed against the 3M Company; Buckeye Fire Equipment Company; Chemguard, Inc.; Tyco Fire Products LP and National Foam, Inc. and allege the companies knew or should have known that the firefighting foam they made, distributed or sold is dangerous to human health and contains unique characteristics that cause extensive and persistent environmental contamination.

All chemicals are potential carcinogens. The PFOA and PFOS are particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children.

“It’s important that we take a proactive approach to removing these types of contaminants, but our ratepayers should not have to bear those costs,” SCWA board member and Huntington resident Jane Devine said. “They should not have to pay for the reckless behavior of companies who either knew or should have known about the effect this compound would have on groundwater.” 

The water authority is also working with the county and town to connect people with private wells in certain communities with the public water supply to avoid contamination.

The Suffolk County Water Authority is an independent public-benefit corporation operating under the authority of the Public Authorities Law of the State of New York. Serving approximately 1.2 million Suffolk County residents, the Authority operates without taxing power on a not-for-profit basis.

This post has been amended to reflect better who filed the 2017 lawsuit against chemical companies, as well as clarify what the water authority is doing to connect people with private wells.

Map of 1,4 Dioxane across Long Island by highest level detected within each water district. Photo from Citizens Campaign for the Environment

County water authority announces new rates

Many have attributed New York state of having “the champagne of drinking water,” though in recent years concerns over water quality have grown, especially on Long Island.

After toxic chemicals have been found in Long Island’s drinking water, 1,4-dioxane, has been found to be the chief concern on the Island, and currently it is not regulated by the state.  

The chemical has been designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen associated with liver and kidney damage after a lifetime of exposure to contaminated drinking water. 

Images: The Citizens Campaign for the Environment shares the test results of common products for 1,4-dioxane. From Citizens Campaign for the Environment

In March, 1,4-dioxane was found in private drinking wells of two homes on Oakside Drive in Smithtown where results showed concentrations higher than 1 part per billion, which is the proposed recommendation by the New York State Drinking Water Quality Council in December 2018. It is not a definitive standard, and the state Health Department is expected to propose a water standard for 1,4-dioxane in the near future. 

As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the Island’s drinking water, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, beginning on March 25, sent informational letters and planned on visiting the 29 homes served by the wells along Smithtown’s Landing Avenue, Oakside Drive and Valley Avenue. From there, each homeowner would set up an appointment with the SCDHS and its staff will come and secure water samples from the wells.  

Grace Kelly-McGovern, public relations director at SCDHS said as of April 10 every homeowner received a letter regarding the surveys and 15 of the wells at these homes have already been sampled. Three more homeowners have requested samplings, but the department has yet to receive a response from the other 11 homeowners.

According to Kelly-McGovern, once the samples are collected, they will be sent to the Hauppauge SCDHS lab, along with the New York State lab in Wadsworth, and will be tested for 1,4-dioxane and other contaminants.  The process should take one to two months. She added it could take several months until homeowners are notified of the results of the samples. 

A concern of 1,4-dioxane is that it can’t be removed through conventional treatment methods and involves a complex process of mixing the contaminated water with hydrogen peroxide, treated with ultraviolet light and then gets sent to tanks filled with carbon where the rest of contaminants are filtered out. The Suffolk County Water Authority’s Central Islip treatment system currently has the sole advanced oxidation process system capable of removing 1,4-dioxane on Long Island, though it required state approval to get it. 

At a forum in early February, the Long Island Water Conference estimated the cost of treatment systems for close to 200 water wells contaminated by 1,4-dioxane to be at $840 million. Implementing these treatment systems, they said, could lead to higher water rates for homeowners. 

The conference coalition asked for additional state aid and for a delay in when they would have to meet the standard. 

As the issue for Long Island’s water providers continues, the SCWA board voted to create the first tiered-rate structure in the agency’s history April 1. 

The new rate structure took effect the same day and the base drinking water charge for all customers will increase from $1.95 per thousand gallons to $2.028 per thousand gallons.

Images: The Citizens Campaign for the Environment shares the test results of common products for 1,4-dioxane. From Citizens Campaign for the Environment

The new tiered rate will be $2.34 per thousand gallons for all consumption over 78,540 gallons per quarter. Customers will only pay the tiered rate on water above 78,540 gallons per quarter, and the standard rate up until that point.

According to the authority, the action is in accordance with an initiative undertaken by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which established a goal for suppliers of reducing peak season water use by 15 percent by 2021 in order to ensure the sustainability of water resources.

“Conservation rate structures have been adopted all across the country to encourage Americans to adjust their water-use habits for the long-term preservation of available water resources,” Jeffrey Szabo, the SCWA chief executive officer said in a press release. “We expect the new rate structure to help protect ratepayers who are careful in their water use and help provide the continued viability of our aquifer system.”

The 1,4-dioxane chemical has also been found in industrial solvents. A March study released by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment indicates the chemical is present in 65 of 80 household products tested, including baby products, shampoos, detergents and body washes. According to Adrienne Esposito, CCE executive director, the products were tested by the ALS environmental laboratory in Rochester which is certified by the state Department of Health. 

The CCE argues that the chemical could end up down the drain and seep into drinking water through septic systems or wells. 

Similarly, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has introduced a bill that would ban household products containing 1,4-dioxane in the state except in trace amounts. The bill is currently in committee. 

This post has been changed to reflect the accurate location of the SCDHS lab and other lab to be doing the water testing. 

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