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Scientists studying the poorly-understood “forever chemical” 1,4-dioxane are looking for volunteers on the East End, especially those whose homes have private drinking water wells, for a study of the chemical’s potential health impacts.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies 1,4 dioxane as a probable human carcinogen, based on results of laboratory testing on experimental animals and is “reasonably anticipated” to be carcinogenic to humans, according to the CDC. Short-term exposure to high levels of the chemical — typically inhalation of chemical vapors by workers — has caused acute, sometimes severe, illness and damage to the kidney and liver. 

Yet little is known about the human health impacts of long-term chronic exposure to smaller concentrations of the chemical.

The Yale Superfund Research Center is about to launch a study to understand the exposure levels of 1,4 dioxane and its health impacts on Long Island, where drinking water has one of the highest levels of 1,4-dioxane contamination in the United States, according to the EPA. See details about the study here

The Yale study has 300 volunteers across the island so far, and researchers said they need 200 more people to sign up. The researchers want more volunteers from the East End because of how common private wells are in the region. 

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. 

The study is being led by Nicole Deziel, a PhD in environmental health. Deziel presented details about the study Wednesday evening during a program organized by Citizens Campaign for the Environment at Riverhead Free Library.

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. 

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 their own tests. No personally identifying information will be publicly released, Deziel said.

Participants will receive a $20 gift card as a thank-you, she said.

To find out more and discuss becoming a volunteer participant, fill out this form.

Editor’s note: To convert parts per billion to parts per million, divide the number by 1,000.

How does 1,4-dioxane contaminate L.I. drinking water?

Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito explained why 1,4-dioxane is such a big issue, especially on Long Island. 1,4-dioxane is a synthetic chemical once commonly used as an industrial solvent stabilizer in paints, primers, varnishes and ink. It is a less common additive in those products today, but it is now also found in a wide variety of household products including shampoo, laundry detergent, soap, skin cleansers, bubble baths and packaging materials. It is found in household products because it is a “byproduct of the manufacturing process,” Citizens Campaign Executive Director Adrienne Esposito said Wednesday.

As a byproduct of the manufacturing process, it does not have to be listed on product labels as an ingredient, so it’s difficult for a consumer to know if a product is contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, Esposito said. Independent testing by CCE found 1,4 dioxane in 65 of 80 common household products. 1,4-dioxane in household products like laundry detergent, soaps, body washes and shampoos means that the chemical ends up in household wastewater, which in turn pollutes the groundwater — the source of Long Island’s drinking water.

As of Dec. 31, 2022, New York State has a maximum allowable concentration of 2 parts per million of 1,4 dioxane for household cleansing and personal care products. It will be reduced to 1 part per million on Dec. 31, 2023. N.Y. also established a maximum concentration level of 10 parts per million for cosmetics as of Dec. 31, 2022.

It is now known that thousands of common household products contain 1,4-dioxane well above the state’s maximum allowable concentration levels — with some having concentrations of the chemical many, many times higher than allowed by state law.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has granted temporary waivers to 1,471 consumer products with concentrations of 1,4-dioxane higher than the 2 parts per million currently allowed by state law.  A review of the list of waivers shows how widespread the chemical’s presence in common consumer products is.

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