Ultraviolet Reactor? The Newest Technology to Combat Emergence of the Unregulated Chemical 1,4-Dioxane

New problems often necessitate new solutions. In the world of toxic torts and environmental liability, advances in remediation techniques are constantly being developed to alleviate the sometimes unavoidable, questionable, and/or nascent effects of innovation, manufacturing, and commerce. One emerging contaminant causing a stir is 1,4-dioxane — a flammable liquid with a variety of industrial applications, such as the manufacture of adhesives, sealants, and other chemicals. It is used in paint strippers, dyes, greases, varnishes and waxes, and it can be found in antifreeze, aircraft de-icing fluids, deodorants, shampoos, and cosmetics. Just a few months ago we saw the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) file a lawsuit against major manufacturers, demanding in part, “all necessary funds to reimburse SCWA for the costs of designing, constructing, installing, operating, and maintaining the treatment facilities and equipment required to remove the 1,4-dioxane from its drinking water wells…”

Lo and behold, earlier this week, the SCWA secured state approval to use a new technology that’s intended to remove the lesser-understood, synthetic industrial chemical 1,4-dioxane from drinking water. The new technology, which uses ultraviolet light and an oxidizer to break down the chemical, will be activated at the well site in Central Islip, NY “as soon as possible” according to SCWA’s chairman. The approval of the new remediation system applies only to the one well site in Central Islip and is conditioned on the SCWA following enhanced monitoring requirements. The deputy commissioner for the state’s Office of Public Health believes that this initial approval will “set the stage for additional systems on Long Island.”

Despite the attention that 1,4-dioxane has received, we still have a primitive understanding of its health effects. In October 2017, the New York Times ran an article about the EPA’s top 10 toxic threats, one of which was 1,4-dioxane. The EPA says that the chemical is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” and that it may cause kidney and liver damage; it is now often found at low levels in drinking water supplies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have also classified 1,4-dioxane as a potential human carcinogen — but based solely on animal studies. At this time, there is no direct confirmation of human carcinogenicity.

In an effort to maintain and improve the quality of New York’s drinking water supplies and infrastructure, the state established the Drinking Water Quality Council (DWQC) to provide recommendations to the New York State DOH on emerging contaminants in drinking water. A DWQC priority is 1,4-dioxane. Although 1,4-dioxane likely is found in drinking water in about 45 states, there’s no federal standard limiting its volume in drinking water. And at the time of this writing, the State of New York has not adopted an MCL — although it’s expected as the DWQC has focused its efforts on this emerging contaminant. With a new drinking water standard for 1,4-dioxane on the horizon, other water districts will likely begin the approval process (e.g., running a pilot test) for their own water treatment systems — and perhaps commence legal action to recover those costs.

We’ll keep you updated on the further development and use of this new remediation technology.