A byproduct of plastics production, dioxane is a clear, synthetic, liquid solvent that easily mixes with water. It’s frequently used in paint strippers, dyes, and varnishes, as well as shampoos and body washes – particularly those that are sudsy. Dioxane doesn’t really biodegrade and is widely regarded as a contaminant.
California has officially listed dioxane as a cancer-causing chemical since 1988. The EPA classified it as a “likely human carcinogen” in 2013 after it found sufficient evidence that dioxane exposure caused tumors in animal testing. While the FDA is aware of this, it does not require companies to list contaminants in products’ ingredients. So many of us are unknowingly washing our hair and scrubbing our bodies with a cancer-causing chemical.
But that’s not the only way we get exposed to dioxane. We’ve known for a long time that dioxane also seeps into groundwater when used as a solvent in industrial manufacturing or when consumer hygiene products get washed down the drain. Since dioxane cannot be filtered out with a home filter, how widespread is drinking water contamination?
Last year, officials in Long Island detected dioxane in more than half of Long Island’s drinking water supply. It didn’t end there. Dioxane has been found in drinking water all across the country. The Environmental Working Group analyzed drinking water samples from local utilities and found dioxane in 45 states’ drinking water – affecting 90 million Americans. California, North Carolina, and New York had the highest number of people exposed to dioxane-contaminated drinking water above the EPA’s suggested standard.
The EPA established that a level of no more than .35 parts per billion of dioxane in public water systems would protect against cancer risk, but the agency never set a legal limit. It’s time for that to change.
Is Your Shampoo Poisoning Your Drinking Water?
Photo, posted August 24, 2013, courtesy of Flickr.
‘Dioxane and Drinking Water’ from Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.
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