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The EPA tested 4,400 water supply systems nationwide and Long Island was found to have some of the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane detection in the US. Photo: Adobe Stock

Yale University scientists are preparing to launch a study on Long Island to determine the health effects of the chemical 1,4 dioxane, a contaminant likely to cause cancer in people, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Yale Superfund Research Center is looking for volunteers who live on Long Island, where the chemical is being detected in private wells and public water supply systems at higher levels than most of the rest of the country, to participate in the study.

The study will analyze drinking water and blood samples to understand the exposure levels of 1,4 dioxane in Long Islanders and to better understand how to protect public health.

This synthetic chemical, which is used in industry as a stabilizer for various solvents, is also frequently found in many common used household products, including shampoo, laundry detergent, soap, skin cleansers, bubble baths and packaging materials.

Exposure to high amounts of the chemical can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as liver and kidney lesions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are no data to determine whether children are more susceptible to 1,4-dioxane toxicity than adults and little is known about long-term exposure to lower concentrations of 1,4-dioxane, according to the CDC.

Public health advocates refer to 1,4 dioxane as “the hidden carcinogen” because it is not an “ingredient.” It’s a chemical that can be created as part of the manufacturing process, so it’s never listed on a product label, Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said in an interview yesterday.

1,4 dioxane is being detected in private wells and public drinking water systems in communities across Long Island, a result of disposal and seepage of products containing the chemical. Since it is present in so many household cleaners and personal care products, the chemical enters household septic systems with waste water and from there enters the groundwater table, Esposito said.

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested 4,400 water supply systems nationwide and Long Island was found to have some of the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane detection in the US, with some water systems in both Nassau and Suffolk containing levels over 100 times the EPA’s cancer risk guideline,” according to the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

New York State has established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 1 part per billion for 1,4 dioxane for drinking water. There is not yet any federal MCL for the contaminant, but the EPA has issued a lifetime cancer risk guideline for drinking water of .35 parts per billion.

New York State also has also established a maximum allowable concentration of 2 parts per million of 1,4 dioxane for household cleansing and personal care products and 10 parts per million for cosmetics. That rule was established by a law enacted in 2019 that went into effect on Dec. 31. The maximum allowable concentration will be dropped to 1 part per million on Dec. 31 of this year.

However, the state law allows the Department of Environmental Conservation to grant a one-year waiver to manufacturers, allowing them to postpone compliance with the new standard. The manufacturer must submit proof to the DEC that it has taken steps to reduce the presence of 1,4 dioxane in its product. A manufacturer can obtain the one-year waiver two times.

As of this month, the state has granted one-year waivers to 1,471 products that contain 1,4 dioxane. The list, which the DEC said is updated monthly, is available at a link on the DEC’s website. The waivers were first reported by Newsday yesterday.

See full list of NYSDEC-approved 1,4 dioxane waivers below.

Waivers have been granted to a wide range of products, from body washes, shower gels, shampoos and skin creams, to cleaning products and laundry and dish detergents. Some have 1,4 dioxane levels in excess of 100 parts per million, and numerous products have levels in the double digits according to the state’s wavier list.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment is working with the Yale Superfund Research Center to raise awareness of the 1,4 dioxane study and solicit volunteers to participate. More information.

“Unfortunately, ignorance is bliss, but ignorance is dangerous,” Esposito said.

CCE hosted a Zoom session yesterday with the director of the Yale School of Public Health, Vasilis Vasiliou and Nicole Deziel of the Yale Superfund Research Center.

The new center is one of 25 university-based superfund research centers in the country and brings together four Yale schools —Public Health, Medicine, Engineering & Applied Science, and the Environment, for a research study focused on 1,4 dioxane because of its common occurrence in superfund sites and drinking water.

“Given that liver cancer incidence rates have more than tripled since 1980, there is an urgent need to evaluate whether emerging water contaminants may be contributing to this increase,” said Vasilis in the October 2022 announcement of the new superfund center’s research project. Vasiliou serves as director of the center and principal investigator for the research program, which is funded with a $7.35 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

“We know that this chemical is carcinogenic in mice. So what we’re trying to find out now is what is the molecular mechanism — how this chemical can cause cancer,” Vasiliou said.

The study will look at not only 1,4 dioxane but at the combined effects of 1,4 dioxane with other contaminants, he said, explaining, “We’re living in times where we’re exposed to multiple chemicals.”

The group led by Deziel will assess exposure to the chemical on Long Island, because it has one of the highest levels of exposure in the nation, Vasiliou said.

Deziel, who grew up on Long Island — she is a graduate of Longwood High School — said her roots on the island led her into the field of environmental health. She is a professor at the Yale School of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Sciences.

“When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was a lot of concern about cancer clusters, particularly breast cancer back then. And my family, my neighbors, we all wondered about the pesticides from some of the farmland, the PCBs, the above-ground power lines, and I was really frustrated by the lack of information and uncertainty about these exposures,” Deziel said. “And that really motivated me to get my degree in this area and to become an environmental epidemiologist,” she said.

Evaluating exposure assessment means learning how people come into contact with these potentially toxic chemicals in their everyday lives, Deziel said. That will be one of the main components of her work in the 1,4 dioxane study, she said.

Deziel said she has focused a lot of her research on the drinking water pathway in particular, and has done some other large drinking water studies trying to understand the quality of drinking water in communities near industrial sites.

“Ultimately, a lot of my research looks at whether the people who have greater exposure also are at greater risk of a variety of health problems,” Deziel said.

Understanding exposure assessment means learning about what people are exposed to and how they’re coming into contact with it, she said.

Deziel gave an overview of the research process. Researchers look at maps of the location of federal and state superfund sites in the area, and using models that estimate a person’s likelihood of exposure based on where they live, work or go to school. Then they look at the types and brands of products that people use or come into contact with. They also need to identify their source of drinking water and test it for chemicals. Finally, they need to collect biomarkers to measure the presence of chemicals in the body. These can be urine, blood and hair samples, Deziel said. Blood samples also capture what’s in the consumer products as well as other sources, maybe other exposures you’re getting at work or school. So, it can give researchers “a more complete picture of your total body burden of different chemicals,” Deziel said.

Participants in the study will be interviewed and will allow researchers to collect tap water samples from their home and blood samples. The center will provide participants with a report of the results of the tests. Participants will also receive a $20 gift card as a thank-you, Deziel said.

The Superfund Research Center plans to launch a pilot study this summer and the full study later this year.

Long Island residents interested in volunteering to participate in the study can register to obtain more information here.

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