Carcinogen found in 90 million Americans’ drinking water supplies remains unregulated in most states

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment, found a carcinogen, in nearly 90 million American’s drinking water supplies. But as if that’s not concerning enough, the human-made carcinogen called 1,4-Dioxane is also found in thousands of personal care products. It remains almost completely unregulated in drinking water, as one of the thousands of chemicals that aren’t closely monitored. It’s also a byproduct in household products that could be removed but isn’t.


1,4-Dioxane is known as a chemical that can cause cancer as well as and liver and kidney damage. Manufacturers have used it as a solvent in the manufacture of other chemicals and as a laboratory reagent since the 50s. Since it doesn’t stick to the soil, it ends up in the groundwater. The toxic substance is a clear flammable liquid with a faintly pleasant odor that mixes easily with water, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.



You can be contaminated by breathing, drinking tap water, and in a wide array of consumer products including cosmetics, detergents, and shampoos. The FDA maintains that a process called vacuum stripping can minimize 1,4-dioxane in such products, but it’s unclear which companies actually do it.



Aside from these sources, it’s also found in food packaging adhesives, food additives, paint strippers, varnishes, dyes, greases, and waxes. The toxin ends up in wastewater discharges, toxic waste, and industrial facilities where plastics and solvents have been manufactured or used.


Laboratory tests in rats and mice have found to expose leads to cancer and it isn’t known if 1,4-Dioxane can cause harm to unborn children.


The EPA has determined that exposure to 1,4-dioxane in drinking water at concentrations of 4 mg/L for one day or 0.4 mg/L for 10 days is not expected to cause any adverse effects in a child.


On the other hand, the EWG points to some occupational studies of pregnant workers exposed to 1,4-dioxane and other solvents “have reported higher rates of pregnancy loss, stillbirths, premature births, and low birth weights,” but can’t confirm it is wholly attributed to 1,4-Dioxane.


The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that 1,4-dioxane is possibly carcinogenic to humans.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) considers 1,4-dioxane as reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.


The EPA has established that 1,4-dioxane is likely to be carcinogenic to humans.


There is overwhelming evidence that the substance can be dangerous in high concentrations and is widespread. According to EWG, much of the country has levels of the chemical that exceed the EPA’s safety recommendations.


“The tests showed that more than 7 million people in 27 states are served by public water systems with higher average levels of the chemical, 1,4-dioxane, than the level the Environmental Protection Agency considers to marginally increase cancer risk.2 That level, established by the EPA in 2013, is 0.35 parts per billion. EWG endorses this level as the no-compromise benchmark to fully protect public health.”

Using an interactive map and a database of the most comprehensive resource on U.S. drinking water available, you can see what the concentrations of the chemical were in your area from 2010 to 2015. The extent of contamination is likely greater than what is shown in the map and database.


Some of the most affected areas with the highest concentrations of the carcinogen are in the Cape Fear River basin in North Carolina, affecting Fayetteville and surrounding communities; southeastern Los Angeles County, Calif.; and New York’s Long Island.


In a statement to PBS, the EPA has stated that it won’t complete regulatory determinations for 1,4-Dioxane until 2021, even though it identified the chemical as one it could regulate in 2009. (see the video below)


The Trump administration nominated toxicologist Michael Dourson to lead the EPA ‘s chemical safety program in July 2017. He had coauthored a paper in 2014 that found safe levels of 1,4-Dioxane were 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s recommendations. He later withdrew his nomination when it appeared he would not get full Senate confirmation.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler laid out a plan in February to tackle another group of hazardous contaminants called PFAS chemicals but the plan was widely criticized as ineffective.


Dr. David Andrews, a senior scientist with Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group, said the plan lacked any real action. The state leaders would have to take action on their own.


“It’s a historic action plan from EPA that’s lacking any action. And so, from our perspective, this really does nothing to protect public health,” Andrews says. “And it’s extremely concerning because it was close to a year ago where Administrator Scott Pruitt called PFOS a national crisis and one that needed urgent action. And yet the plan today reflects exactly the same talking points he had nine months ago.”

It appears that any real protections will have to come from the states. So far, six states have regulated 1,4 dioxane, including California, Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Now it looks like New York will be next.


To help get the chemical out of the drinking water, authorities are looking at the use of ultraviolet lighting that can remove 1,4 dioxane from water supplies, but which come at a cost.


Last Tuesday, Long Island lawmakers proposed a bill to ban the chemical compound 1,4 dioxane in all cleaning, hygiene and beauty products sold in New York to “address a growing crisis with the state’s drinking water.”


Meanwhile, in Lansing, Michigan, scientists are experimenting with using “biosparging,” a process of injecting air into groundwater to encourage bacterial growth which consumes 1,4-dioxane. General Motors had used the chemical to clean oil from car parts and it ended up in drinking water wells. The process could take 12 years before the water is fully clean again.


See more from PBS News Hour below:

Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube







Show Your Friends!
Matthew Silvan

Progressive liberal from the American south. Working to educate and inform on issues like preserving the environment, equality for minorities and women, and improving the quality of life for mankind and our ecosystem. Following the facts in the face of a movement to follow only the money.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments