By Bethany Smith and Tiffani Golding
The State Water Quality Council is meeting to set maximum contaminate levels of a type of ether on October 2nd at Stony Brook University. This will aid in Suffolk County Water Authority’s (SCWA) mission to get through the final stage of approval for a pilot program to remove it from local bodies of water all around Long Island.
Nassau and Suffolk water suppliers reported this to be one of the largest contaminations in the nation, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study. The ether is a chemical compound called 1,4-Dioxane. The state recently asked SCWA to work with them to decrease this toxin which they had been testing and planning since 2003.
“Our policy as a board is we have always tested for 100s more contaminants than we are required to,” James Gaughran, the Chairman of the SCWA said. “We need to have and want to have much higher standards than everyone else.”
1,4-Dioxane can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion and sometimes through skin exposure, according to an EPA report. Short term effects of exposure include drowsiness, nausea and irritation of the eyes nose and throat, and long term exposure could result in dermatitis, eczema and kidney and liver damage.
Tests on lab rats have shown increased incidents of cancer when exposed to the chemical and the EPA has classified it as likely to be carcinogenic to humans according to the report.
The EPA has not yet regulated the amount of this chemical that is safe in water. “New York State is currently in the process of looking into 1,4-Dioxane, and then setting a maximum contaminate level for it,” Chris Niebling, the Organic Laboratory Manager for SCWA, said.
The solution to this contamination is a machine called an Advanced Oxidation Process Reactor which is currently being tested in Central Islip. It is an addition to a machine that already exists but that didn’t properly remove the 1,4-Dioxane.
“Our water is a huge part of our culture and our lives, and keeping it safe for Long Islanders would be worth the price to pay,” Elizabeth Dunning from Shelter Island said.
The Reactor itself is used specifically to cut out the ether by adding UV lights that breaks down the 1,4-Dioxane. Scott H. Meyerdierks, the lead civil engineer for SCWA, said, “It appears right now that this is the only way we know to treat 1,4-Dioxane.”
There is a well from which the water travels from the well into a strainer to remove small objects like rocks. Hydrogen peroxide is then added and it goes through a mixer. After that, the mixture will pass through a UV light which reacts with the the 1,4-Dioxane and hydrogen peroxide to break down the ether Meyerdierks said.
The machine can remove up to 98% of 1,4-Dioxane Meyerdierks said. The aim is to remove it entirely but, “because of technology, we can’t say 100%. We are testing parts per million which makes that hard.”
After approval, Gaughran said he hopes to see this program expand. “This is really cutting edge technology that could become a model for the state and even the nation.”