Monday, July 26, 2010

Study reveals tainted groundwater in northern Delaware

Tainted groundwater is spreading across thousands of acres in northern Delaware and has reached the Potomac Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to people across much of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey.

In some areas of the upper Potomac near Delaware City and New Castle, concentrations of benzene, vinyl chloride and chlorinated benzene are so high that exposure poses an immediate health threat. Elevated levels of these industrial byproducts significantly increase the risks of cancer. Sustained exposure could kill.

These two, powerful paragraphs are the introduction to a must-read environmental news series launched yesterday by the (Wilmington, DE) News Journal. It's based on a year-long investigation by the newspaper that uncovered "a damning history of corporate mistakes and lax government oversight, especially in the corridor bordered by the Delaware River, DuPont Highway and the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal."

The newspaper says its report is based on thousands of pages of corporate documents, consultant reports, hydrology and geology studies, well-water monitoring reports and ecological tests on fish and plants. The majority of the documents, it says, were gathered through state and federal Freedom of Information Act requests and most have never been distributed to the public.

The opening story, Delaware Drinking Water at Risk, provides this backdrop to the report.

Northern Delaware is home to some of the worst chemical dumping grounds in America, a legacy of broken promises and corporate misdeeds. Regulators working for Delaware and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have long claimed that the deep clay layers above the aquifer protected it from the foul waters discharged by chemical and petroleum manufacturers.

"Those assurances have proved false.

The protective layer over the aquifer, scientists now say, is full of holes.

To prevent a public health disaster, the state has banned public use of groundwater under or near the Delaware City petrochemical complex.

Toxic pollutants, though, are now moving near the edge of that containment zone, outside the properties of Metachem, Occidental Chemical, Formosa Plastics and the Delaware City Refinery, and toward schools and houses.

One plume of chemicals has traveled a mile south of the refinery's main production area and has seeped 190 feet into the earth.

We recommend that you read the entire series. It's going to ruffle corporate and political feathers. Good journalism does that. It takes time, talent, experience, money, commitment and political courage to produce such an investigative report.  Like all valuable news series, the News-Journal's contains sidebar stories, photos and graphs that expand the reader's understanding of the problem and point to possible solutions.

As daily newspapers shrink in number, size and resources, reporting like this is less frequently seen. It may be a fact of current economic life, but it's regrettable.  An informed public needs efforts like these.

There are some who cheer the demise of newspapers. Bloggers, pundits and  'citizen journalist' will fill the void, they say. 

We say: Don't count on it.  Long live feisty, independent newspapers like the News Journal.

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the opinion box below.  If one is not visible, click on the tiny 'comments' line below to activate it.

Related story
Taxpayers stuck with $100 million mess
The abandoned Metachem plant is the most polluted site in the petrochemical complex near Delaware City. Based on government promises that poisoned soils and groundwater could be cleaned, taxpayers have already spent more than $100 million at Metachem. (News Journal photo by Fred Comegys)

Related story:

Drinking water filtering strongly recommended
Richard F. Davis, a former state representative and a DuPont Co. chemist, relies on a whole-house filter in his Mariners Watch neighborhood. “It’s impossible to know
where all the water comes from.”

(News Journal photo by Jennifer Corbett)

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