New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation would dole out $120 million in grants aimed at helping Long Island water districts and villages, including the Village of Mineola, combat emerging contaminants like 1,4-dioxane, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).
Last summer, Mayor Scott Strauss informed residents during a village board meeting that the village was taking the companies responsible for the water contamination to court.
“Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s office announced that the New York State Department of Health has proposed new drinking water standards with the emerging contaminants PFOA, PFOS and 1,4-dioxane, which are polluting Long Island groundwater from industrial chemicals that were used and disposed here for decades,” Strauss said. “All that time, those responsible for the contamination knew or should have known, about hazards posed by their products. They didn’t take appropriate steps to warn others of the threat or to prevent them from the contamination. That’s why we are taking them to court. They, not our customers, are responsible for contaminating our water supplies and should be held accountable for the cost of cleaning them up.”
The village is currently undertaking three major water and sewer infrastructure projects. One of those projects is the upgrade of Well 4 to meet the state’s proposed 1,4-dioxane and PFAS treatment requirements.
“Mineola’s water continues to meet or exceed all current safety standards,” Strauss said. “Upgrading Well 4 will ensure that our water needs are met and will meet future state standards. This project is anticipated to cost approximately $8.5 million, of which $4.98 million will be covered by the New York State grant established specifically for this purpose. While we cannot use this money for any other project, the grant will go a long way toward lessening the cost to our village taxpayers.”
Additionally, Cuomo said that by investing in improving the state’s water infrastructure, the state is laying the foundation for regional growth and prosperity while also protecting its natural resources.
“These investments in our communities will help ensure residents in every corner of the state have access to safe, clean drinking water, helping to build a stronger New York for all,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The grants are intended to help fund water district’s and various village’s construction of Advanced Oxidation Process (AOP) filtration systems in each well where the level of 1,4-dioxane detected exceeds 1.0 part per billion (ppb), a maximum contaminant level approved by the New York State Department of Health last summer. Water districts and village’s in the state have three years to set up 1,4-dioxane filtration systems in wells exceeding the maximum contaminant level.
The 23 total grants given out to Long Island water districts and villages, which range from $42,000 to just over $14 million, fund at most 60 percent of the estimated cost of setting up the necessary number of AOP systems in each district.
Albertson and Searingtown are served by the Manhasset-Lakeville Water District, which has been granted just under $11 million to help filter two wells. The combined cost of the district’s projects is estimated at about $23.3 million.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1,4-dioxane is a synthetic chemical produced as a by-product in paint strippers and antifreeze, among other products, and found in many household cleaning and beauty products. The EPA calls 1,4-dioxane a “likely” carcinogen. No federal regulations on 1,4-dioxane levels are currently in place, but the EPA health advisory for the chemical is 0.35 ppb. Cuomo signed legislation banning the sale of cleaning products containing 1,4-dioxane in the state on Dec. 9 last year.
The Village of Mineola is just one of 23 villages or water districts on Long Island suing the companies for damages to help cover the costs of filtering the contaminant so the burden isn’t placed on taxpayers.
“The idea is that the public shouldn’t have to bear the cost of removing chemicals they didn’t put in the water,” Katie Jones, an attorney at Sher Edling LLP, a California-based law firm representing all the plaintiffs, said. “The responsibility falls on the company that manufactured the chemicals, marketed and promoted their use all while knowing about its risks to human health and about how long it stays in the environment.”
Arjun Venkatesan, a research scientist for the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology and a professor in Stony Brook University’s Department of Civil Engineering, specializes in treating emerging contaminants in drinking water supplies. Venkatesan said the AOP doesn’t work with PFOA and PFOS due to the toughness of the compounds, but the pair of contaminants can be treated by more accessible measures.
“The good thing is the granular-activated carbon filters that are currently in place, and even the Brita filters, are capable of removing these compounds from water,” Venkatesan said. “The carbon filtration system does a pretty good job of removing PFOS and PFOA, but there are several questions associated with it.”
Venkatesan mentioned filtering these contaminants out of a water supply is a time-consuming process, and cautioned residents in affected areas against acting rashly.
“It takes time for each water district to get approval for cleaning up their systems and installing these advanced oxidation processes,” Venkatesan said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. Not every single well is contaminated with 1,4-dioxane and PFOA/PFOS. The public should talk to their specific water districts to understand what the contamination levels are that they’re getting in their tap water before boycotting tap water.”