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Report warns of chemical in tap water

September 11, 2017 GMT

La PORTE — An environmental advocacy group is warning of a potentially cancer-causing chemical found in tap water across the nation, including La Porte’s, although local officials remind residents the water provided by the city continues to exceed all federal standards.

“If we thought for one minute there was a problem, we’d do something about it,” Water Department Director Todd Taylor said. “We want people to know we take water quality and water safety very seriously here.”

Environmental Working Group, headquartered in Washington, D.C., released the report this week detailing the presence of 1,4-dioxane in tap water supplies for 90 million Americans across 45 states.

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The chemical — used since the 1950s as an industrial solvent and a common impurity in soaps, shampoos and household cleaners — is classified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as a “likely” carcinogen at elevated levels although the chemical is not yet regulated by the federal government.

The report said more than seven million people in 27 states are served by public water systems with a higher average level of the chemical than the EPA says may pose an increased risk of cancer. One of those water systems is in La Porte.

EWG used data collected by the EPA in its “emerging contaminants” survey, part of an ongoing effort by the government to learn more about the extent of potentially harmful chemicals in the environment.

There is no universally accepted standard for this chemical, and that’s part of the issue, according to Taylor. The EPA has selected this chemical as one of the first 10 to be reviewed under its new chemical safety law.

“That’s one reason we participated in this volunteer study, so we could detect any problems ourselves as well as be a part of a process that determines safe drinking water standards,” Taylor said.

An interactive map created by EWG shows levels of 1,4-dioxane found in public water systems across the country and highlights in red those with higher average levels than the EPA considers to marginally increase cancer risk.

La Porte Water Works had an average detection level of 0.462 parts per billion.

Although there is no federal regulation limiting 1,4-dioxane levels under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA Office of Research and Development has defined a concentration of 0.35 ppb — about one drop of water in three Olympic-size swimming pools — as the amount expected to cause no more than one additional case of cancer in 1 million people who drink and bathe with the water over a lifetime.

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While the level detected in La Porte is above the threshold used by the environmental group — the EPA’s “negligible risk level” of 0.35 ppb — it is not nearly as high as some others.

Sanford, North Carolina, recorded an average of 5.825 ppb. Among large water systems with elevated levels was one in Los Angeles County at 4.9 ppb, the report said.

Peoria Heights, Illinois, had an average level of 1.176 ppb. Saulk, Illinois, was at 1.03 ppb.

Other Indiana cities highlighted in the report included Columbus at 0.482 ppb and German Township near Evansville at 0.38 ppb. Among those below the threshold were South Bend at 0.192 ppb and Lafayette at 0.182 ppb.

Not all municipalities participated in the study, nor were private wells considered, the report said. Guidelines vary widely for the few states addressing the issue — from 0.25 ppb in New Hampshire to 4.0 ppb in Maine.

Products in which 1,4-dioxane contamination is found include shampoos, foaming soaps, bubble baths, lotions and laundry soaps, but the Food and Drug Administration does not require the chemical to be listed on product labels. EWG said processes for removing the chemical from consumer products is relatively simple.

“Once again, industry negligence and government inaction results in millions of Americans being exposed through multiple pathways to a highly toxic chemical that could cause cancer,” said EWG senior scientist Tasha Stoiber, co-author of the report titled "Hidden Carcinogen Taints Tap Water, Consumer Products Nationwide."

“Much of the nation’s tap water and consumer goods are awash in 1,4-dioxane, putting the health of children and adults at risk,” Stoiber said.

Health risks related to elevated 1,4-dioxane exposure include cancer, and liver and kidney damage, according to the report.

Prospects for tighter regulation of the chemical are uncertain, according to the group.

President Donald Trump’s nomination of Michael Dourson in July to head the EPA office that oversees chemical and pesticide safety is the author of two industry-funded reports arguing that people can safely be exposed to 1,4-dioxane at 1,000 times the agency’s increased cancer risk level, according to the report.

Read EWG’s full report: http://www.ewg.org/release/hidden-carcinogen-taints-tap-water-consumer-products-nationwide#.Wa9yS9N9598

STATE RESTRICTIONS

In the absence of federal regulation, some states have set water quality limits, guidelines and notification requirements related to the chemical 1,4-dioxane:

California: Water utilities must notify state government agencies whenever concentrations rise above 1 ppb.

Colorado: Levels in groundwater should not exceed 0.35 ppb.

Maine: The drinking water maximum exposure guideline is 4 ppb.

Massachusetts: The non-enforceable drinking water guideline is 0.3 ppb.

New Hampshire: The reporting limit for public water supplies is 0.25 ppb.

New Jersey: The groundwater quality standard is 0.4 ppb.

North Carolina: The groundwater quality standard is 3 ppb and the surface water supply standard is 0.35 ppb.

Source: Environmental Working Group