1,4-dioxane is a man-made chemical used by industry. It does not occur naturally in the environment. 1,4-dioxane is a colorless, flammable liquid with a mild odor that easily dissolves in water.
1,4-dioxane is use as a solvent and in chlorinated solvent stabilizer, pharmaceuticals, and adhesives. It is found in lacquers, paints, dyes, resins, waxes, grease, and a small amount is found in cosmetics, detergents, and other consumer products.
Most of the 1,4-dioxane that is found in air comes from industrial processes that use the chemical. 1,4- dioxane does not stick to soil and can enter surface water or groundwater. It can migrate rapidly in groundwater and is relatively resistant to degradation in the environment. 1,4-dioxane has been detected in groundwater in the US, including Wisconsin.
People who work in an industry that uses 1,4-dioxane have the greatest risk of exposure by breathing. People in non-work settings may also be exposed to low levels in the air when using products that have 1,4-dioxane in them. If 1,4-dioxane concentrations are high enough in household water, people may be exposed to chemical vapors while showering or bathing.
1,4-dioxane can be absorbed through the skin if consumer products such as cosmetics and detergents that contain small amounts of the chemical are used on the body.
There is no federal standard for 1,4-dioxane in air. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulates the amount of 1,4-dioxane that can be released by industries into outdoor ambient air. 1,4-dioxane-containing products should be used for short periods of time, in small amounts, and in well-ventilated areas.
There is no federal drinking water standard for 1,4-dioxane.
The Wisconsin groundwater standard for 1,4-dioxane is 3 parts per billion (ppb). However, the Department of Health Services (DHS) reviewed this standard in 2019 as part of the tenth cycle of groundwater standards. DHS recommends a groundwater standard of 0.35 micrograms per liter (µg/L) based on updated scientific information. DHS recommends that people take action to reduce exposure when the level in drinking water are equal to or greater than 0.35 µg/L.
Everyone's Reaction is Different
A person's reaction to chemicals depends on several things, including individual health, heredity, previous exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as smoking or drinking. It’s also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical, the amount of chemical exposure, and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.
Few studies are available that examine the effects of 1,4-dioxane in humans. What is available shows exposure to very high levels of 1,4-dioxane can result in drowsiness and liver and kidney damage. Eye and nose irritation have been reported by people inhaling low levels of 1,4-dioxane over short periods of time.
Studies in laboratory animals have also demonstrated that exposure to 1,4-dioxane can result in liver and kidney damage. Animals exposed to 1,4-dioxane also experienced nasal irritation and inflammation.
The US EPA considers 1,4-dioxane “likely to be carcinogenic” by all routes of exposure. In studies of laboratory animals exposed to 1,4-dioxane in drinking water for most of their lifetime, rats and mice developed liver cancer and the rats also developed nasal tumors. Studies in humans that have looked at the ability of 1,4-dioxane to cause cancer are inconclusive.
Blood and urine can be analyzed for the presence of 1,4-dioxane and its metabolites. This type of test can determine if there is exposure to 1,4-dioxane. However, 1,4-dioxane and its breakdown products are excreted fairly rapidly. Therefore, this type of test cannot measure how long the exposure has lasted or if exposures were higher previously. This test also does not predict whether exposure to 1,4-dioxane will result in harmful health effects.
Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to chemical exposure.