New York Adopts Drinking Water Standards For Three Toxic Chemicals

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

New York State leads the charge for rigorous drinking water standards for toxic chemicals like 1,4-dioxane, PFOS, and PFOA

The state of New York adopted drinking water standards this year for three toxic chemicals. New York adopted a drinking water standard for 1,4-Dioxane, setting the maximum contaminant level of 1 part per billion for 1,4-Dioxane. The standard is the first of its kind in the U.S. New York also adopted maximum contaminant levels for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the state’s drinking water at 10 parts per trillion. It is among the lowest levels in the U.S. for both contaminants. Under the new regulations, New York requires testing and monitoring for public water systems.

"While the federal government continues to leave emerging contaminants like 1,4-Dioxane, PFOA and PFOS unregulated, New York is leading the way by setting new national standards that help ensure drinking water quality and safeguard New Yorker's health from these chemicals," Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement. "The environmental movement was founded in this great state and we will continue to move forward to protect our most precious resources for generations to come."

“These drinking water standards are among the toughest in the nation and a necessary step in the fight to protect New Yorkers against this health crisis,” said Rich Schrader, New York Policy Director at Natural Resources Defense Council.

The health dangers of 1,4-dioxane, PFOS, and PFOA

1,4-dioxane is in products that create suds such as shampoo, liquid soap, and bubble bath. It penetrates the skin and is considered a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The National Toxicology Program lists it as an animal carcinogen, and California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer or birth defects included it. It is not listed on ingredient labels because 1,4-dioxane is created when common ingredients such as sodium laureth sulfate, PEG compounds, xynol, ceteareth, and oleth react when mixed.

EWG estimates that 1,4-dioxane is in about 22 percent of the more than 25,000 cosmetic products listed in its database. Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require the listing of 1,4-dioxane on product labels means there is no way to know if a product contains, which makes it difficult for consumers to avoid it. One way to avoid 1,4-dioxane in cosmetic products is to be products certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program. A study by the Organic Consumers Association found that it does not exist in cosmetic products certified by the USDA National Organic Program. An analysis by EWG found that water supplies for over seven million people in 27 states have 1,4-dioxane contamination.

PFOS and PFOA are part of a group of chemicals called polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). They are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. PFOS and PFOA do not break down in the environment, can move through soils, contaminate drinking water sources, and build up in fish and wildlife. They are found in soil, air, and groundwater across the U.S. Tests commissioned by EWG found PFAS in drinking water in dozens of U.S. cities. Researchers tested water samples from 44 areas in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Only one sample had no detectable PFAS, while two other locations had PFAS below the level that independent studies show are a risk to people.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers measured at least 12 PFAS in the blood serum of participants 12 years and older. What they found are four PFAS, including PFOS and PFOA, in the serum of almost all of the people tested. That is a problem because research suggests that high levels of PFAS may cause increased cholesterol levels, changes in liver enzymes, and increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer.

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