The Town of Hempstead received a $3 million state grant on Monday to remove the chemical 1,4-dioxane from its drinking supply, starting with the construction of a filtration system at its East Meadow Water District.
Recently de-clared a “likely carcinogin” by the Environmental Protection Agency, dioxane is found in household products like detergents and shampoos. A report by the New York Public Interest Research Group concluded that Long Island’s drinking water had the highest traces of the compound in New York state.
The EPA recommends a dioxane concentration of no more than 0.35 parts per billion in water supplies, but leaves states to set their own standards. Last month, responding to bipartisan pressure from state and local officials, the State Department of Health changed the standard from 5 to 1 parts per billion.
The Town of Hempstead will begin soliciting bids for the construction of an advanced oxidation process system, which uses ultraviolet light to remove the chemical.
“Our residents have a few expectations when it comes to their drinking water,” Gillen said. “They expect that water suppliers will provide and maintain clean and safe drinking water. And they expect that the government will alert them when there are water-quality issues.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in July that the state had set aside $350 million for the water treatment, with a $3 million cap on individual municipalities. The $3 million is “a great to start to build the first filtration system,” said Michael Fricchione, a spokesman for Gillen. Her office estimated, however, that the cost of building such a system townwide would be $40 million, and take three years.
The town Water Department pumps an average of roughly 18 million gallons of water each day to over 120,000 customers. The East Meadow Water District, the site of the town Water Department’s headquarters, services roughly 40,000 customers. The district is also home to several schools, as well as Nassau University Medical Center and Eisenhower Park.
To cover the remaining $37 million, Gillen announced on July 3 her plan to sue the manufacturers she said were responsible for polluting the town’s water with dioxane. Joining her at a news conference in East Meadow was local activist Adrienne Esposito, director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has long monitored the issue of dioxane in water.
“It is their chemicals that have threatened our health,” Esposito said of the manufacturers. “And it is their chemicals that are now threatening our economic stability of the cost of water. Therefore, it is their responsibility to pay the bill.”
The town approved Gillen’s resolution to file suit last month, and hired a San Francisco law firm, Sher Edling LLP, which represents the Suffolk County Water Authority in a similar suit, filed in November 2017.
The town and the water authority face the same roadblock: the state’s statute of limitations on lawsuits against companies responsible for water pollution. Litigation must take place within three years of the discovery of the contaminants. But dioxane has only recently been deemed harmful, Gillen said. So she is urging Cuomo to sign into law a bill sponsored by State Sen. James Gaughran, a Democrat from Huntington, that would extend or modify the statue of limitations, which would allow both cases to move forward. The bill passed the Senate and Assembly in June and is still under review by Cuomo.
“Clean, safe drinking water is a basic human right,” Gillen said, “which is why the town is aggressively pursuing every option available to ensure our drinking water conforms to the most stringent standards in the nation.”