Long Island faces price spike for cleaner drinking water

Safer drinking water may cost homeowners double or even triple if it means eliminating a harmful chemical known as 1,4-dioxane, according to some water suppliers on Long Island.

"Suffolk County Water Authority serves approximately 85 percent of Suffolk County, excluding Riverhead, Shelter Island, and private wells," said Tim Hopkins of the water authority.

New York State plans to limit the legal concentration of 1,4-dioxane, a manmade chemical found in some solvents and laundry detergents.

The problem is that the price tag is a hefty one—some $840 million. Many are asking, Who is going to pay?

Water suppliers are relying on state aid and a delay in enforcement. But environmentalist Adrienne Esposito said doing that will only put the public at risk.

"We believe the price tag that the water suppliers have come up with is inflated and alarming," she said. "We understand it's expensive, we understand keeping water clean isn't free but we also understand that water suppliers can't be alarmists and exaggerate the costs to get grants from state government."

Right now, only one 1,4-dioxane treatment system is in operation in New York State. Hydrogen peroxide is added to the water, which flows across an ultraviolet reactor to remove the compound. The cost, though, is expensive: it can run about $2 million each.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran recently proposed a bill to give water authorities another option to get the money back.

"You can recoup hundreds of millions of dollars and the importance of that is that the polluters who created the problem should be paying for this, not the taxpayers," he said.

And while some people prefer that the money doesn't come out of their pockets, others feel that safety should be the priority no matter the cost.

"We're going to pay for it through disease, through medical care," one Long Islander said. "We will pay in the long run so if we don't pay to remove it. We'll pay somewhere else."