Exceptional series on groundwater pollution in Delaware

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
–The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834

Monday is a Code Green day.  Tuesday and Wed. are looking like Code Yellow.  Enjoy a day’s respite from pollution…..

" …giving up is not an option."

If you care, get on the phone to your state senator, state representative (contact information here) , and Governor Markell:   jack.markell@state.de.us, 800.292.9570.

The Wilmington News Journal is running an exceptional series on groundwater pollution in Delaware.  Writer Jeff Montgomery is a diligent, comprehending reporter.  And this illustrates the importance to society of having media that can afford to pay competent reporters to do time-consuming investigations.

But in order to grasp the real import of these stories we need to be comprehending readers, recognizing that what appears is greatly influenced by Gannett’s editors and managers, who have their own agendas.  (Montgomery’s editor, Merritt Wallick, is a blackout artist of long standing, at least where Green Delaware and other independent voices are concerned.)

Read these stories, if you haven’t. Read and weep:

By JEFF MONTGOMERY � The News Journal:

Delaware Drinking Water at Risk: Taxpayers stuck with $100 million mess
Metachem declared bankruptcy, walked away from debt and cleanup effort

Polluted water found statewide
Toxic plume lurks under Dover’s historic Green

Delaware Drinking Water at Risk: Polluters pay for testing, leaving public in dark
In flawed system, ‘there’s not much accountability’

After one huge spill during the mid-1980s, [retired Standard Chlorine official James] Bryant recalled, company workers paddled across pools of chlorinated benzene in aluminum boats, while a tractor-trailer sat stranded nearby, its tires melting as the solvent reacted with the rubber.

"All that just rushed down into the creek, and a lot of it’s still there, more than 20 years later," Bryant said. "It’s a disgrace."

So far as I know, the three to have had the most to say about this are Midge Harmer, now deceased, Jim Bryant, and various Green Delaware members. Key points:

o       Delaware’s groundwater contamination is much broader and deeper than the polluters, DNREC, EPA, etc, are ever willing to admit;

o       Contamination continues to spread while officials fart around, make excuses, and conceal crucial information;

o       Almost nowhere in Delaware have any real groundwater cleanups happened.  Official policy is "deny, cover up and forget;"

o       There is no intention of cleaning up the mega-messes under Standard/Chlorine/Metachem or under the Markell/Coons refinery. Rather, the intent is to leave these areas, like the DuPont Dioxin Pile site in Edge Moor, as permanent sacrifice zones;

o       The more site cleanups are "streamlined," and the more the budgets and capabilities of regulatory agencies are curtailed, the worse the situation becomes.  Both of these are Markell priorities.  Another News Journal story today noted about the DNREC: "Departmental budget cuts led to the loss of 34 full-time staff positions"–out of a total of around 750.

The comments on the stories–there are a couple of hundred–are also interesting: 

Nut-case right-wingers blame "government" generally and Obama and Democrats and so on.  Nut-case thinking is now mainstream as large numbers of people have taken leave of reality.

Few are blaming Markell or his predecessors for cutting DNREC’s budget.  Nobody calling for the firing of those officials who have lied to and mislead the public over and over again.

A sense of hopelessness, as in this one:

My thoughts:

1) Does not surprise me, especially with cancer running rampant in Delaware.
2) Nothing of any substance will get done over this article. It costs too much to politicians, human lives do not.
3) While I applaud TNJ on stories like this, I’d rather not even know, because there is little I can do about it.

But giving up is not an option.  by nature, business is a cost minimizer and does what it can get away with.  "Public" entities like the Delaware Solid Waste Authority or the Departments of Defense or Energy behave no differently. The only way the general health and welfare can be protected is by strict enforcement of strict environmental laws.  We have to have a DNREC and an EPA, we just need better ones, ones able, and allowed, to do the job we are paying them to do.

Sometimes the behavior of the DNREC is impossible to excuse or justify.  Think, for example, of a $25,000 grant to the incinerator-promoting "Clean Air Council," or Deputy Secretary David Small deceiving the Senate about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or the DNREC caught illegally burying hazardous waste at it’s own "Doxee Clam" site.  There are lots of disgusting examples.  But (quoting myself from a News Journal website comment):

I suppose not many people have criticized the Delaware DNREC more than I, but:

The DNREC does what the Governor, the General Assembly, and the EPA tell it to do.  Most of the time, the pressure is to do less, to give the polluters a free ride, and now, absurdly, to promote "economic development."  Taking a stand against a big polluter can be a career-killing move.  True, there are mostly hacks at the top, but there are good, dedicated people in the agency as well as lazy, unqualified ones.
Interesting that in all these comments on this series of stories, I see lots of blaming the DNREC, lots of ranting against government, but not a single critique of Governor Markell for cutting the staff and budget of the DNREC.  Seems to me that Delawareans, overall, just don’t "get it."
Alan Muller
Green Delaware

And another:

The News Journal is to be commended for reporting on this. But per usual quotes the liars and excuse-makers rather than the people who have pointed out the problem and tried to do something about it….  The usual odd mix of good reporting and misrepresentation.  I’d suspect that the reporting comes more from the reporter and the misrepresentation more from editors and managers.

DNREC and EPA have connived together for years to cover this whole mess up, literally and figuratively.  Two key offenders:
Margie Crofts, who O’Mara or Markell have made director of the DNREC Division of Air and Waste Management, and Shawn Garvin, who Obama–probably on the advice of Biden and Carper–has been made Administrator of EPA Region III.  Neither, so far as I know, have ever shown any grasp of technical or health issues.  The see everything in terms of bureaucracy and politics.
Alan Muller
Green Delaware


Markell is cutting the size of the DNREC and, as far as I can see, hacks are rising to the top of what remains.  The mainstream Delaware enviros–the one’s who take orders from Markell and his staff–do NOTHING.

I participated in the environment part of incoming Governor Jack Markell’s "transition team."  It was mostly controlled by developers, polluters and their stooges.  A question posed was how to save money. 

My argument was and is this:  The total DNREC general fund budget is around $40 million.  The DNREC total, from all sources, is around three times more.  At most less than five percent of the state budgetTHIS is the priority Delaware gives to protecting its environment and the health of its residents.  (The Division of Public Health is another sad story.)  There is no money to be saved by cutting this.  The only way to improve the cost-effectiveness of the DNREC is to improve it’s effectiveness, including (1) giving it the resources it needs, and (2) replacing the hacks, incompetents and liars, (3) shielding the agency from political interference.

There is no point in blaming the bureaucrats of the DNREC for what the Governor and other pols tell them to do. We need to point to the "deciders," hold them accountable, and make them act in the public interest to protect the public. 

Closing with another News Journal comment:

CrzymommaT wrote:

Look around in your own world here in DE, how many people do you know who have been diagnosed with some form of cancer? Thyroid, Prostate, Breast, Colon, etc. How many people around you have had the previously mentioned cancers? How can we remain un-moved? How can we read this information and not care? I don’t care about the BLAME GAME, I care about RESULTS!! The fixer will be our HERO! Enough of the BELLY ACHING and BITCHING! We all joke about going to Mexico and not drinking the water, why because we might throw up? Soon no one will come to Delaware because they might get cancer, just breathing our AIR. I don’t know about you but I think I would rather go to a place where the fix is Pepto, as opposed to a fix of death or chemo. Eating fruit that contains water, ie: watermelon, you consume our fine "FIRST STATE WATER", pure and unfiltered. All our organic produce is watered with this fine DELAWARE unfiltered water. Maybe we need new T-Shirts. "DELAWARE – DELA-WHAT – DELA-GLOW"

If you care, get on the phone to your state senator, state representative (contact information here) , and Governor Markell:   jack.markell@state.de.us, 800.292.9570.

Alan Muller

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