Representative John Kowalko has stepped up to the plate and is circulating a petition calling for removal of the DuPont/Chemours Dioxin Pile. PLEASE SIGN KOWALKO’S PETITION.
This post is a bit long. Bear with us…..
The 115 acre site of the DuPont/Chemours Edge-Moor plant, situated on the Delaware River at its confluence with Shellpot Creek, has a long history going back to the 1600s. (USA today has an interesting history here, though it is not entirely accurate.)
E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co. (“DuPont”) became the sole owner of the site, already making the white pigment titanium (“TlO2”)dioxide, in 1935.
About Titanium Dioxide
TiO2 is interesting stuff. It’s main use is in white paint and paper, but it has various other uses. It accounts for 70% of the total production volume of pigments worldwide. Annual global production is in the range of 5 million tons. Some info here.
TiO2 has commonly been considered non-toxic, especially compared to the very dangerous lead compounds previously used in white paint. Thus, it has often been used in foods–to make them whiter–and in sunscreens and other cosmetics. But, TiO2 is far from harmless and using it for frivolous purposes such as making donuts white is foolish.
TiO2 is often used in the form of nanoparticles, particles smaller than 100 nanometers or 0.1micron. Particles this small readily pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, into the brain, and through cell walls.
TiO2 is classified as a “possible” human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Making Titanium Dioxide
Titanium is not scarce–it makes up nine percent of the earth’s crust The ore is commonly (not always) in the form of TiO2 with contaminants. What DuPont/Chemours and other producers do is essentially to remove these contaminants–to purify the ore. The contaminants left over include toxic metals, radioactive thorium, and other baddies. Getting rid of these as cheaply as possible has always been a key DuPont business goal.
The DuPont “chloride process,” first used commercially at the Edge-Moor plant, involves reacting the ore with chlorine to produce titanium tetrachloride (“tickle”), purifying it, and “reducing” it back to the oxide, TiO2. Chlorine is a toxic green gas used as a poison gas in World War I.. Trainloads of chlorine are commonly parked on a railroad siding next to the Edge-Moor plant, creating a serious hazard in the event of an accidental release. The “tickle” is also a dangerous material; it reacts with moisture to form white clouds of TiO2 mixed with acutely toxic hydrochloric acid. People living near the plant remember these clouds of fumes. I remember that the plant parking lot had a remote control sprayer at the exit, so workers and visitors could rinse the corrosive deposits off their cars.
But the worst aspect of this process is that it involves carbon-containing materials coming together with chlorine at high temperatures. This is a formula for making dioxins, one of the most toxic substances,, or family of substances, known. “Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”
Glen Evers, former DuPont employee and whistleblower who used to work at Edge-Moor, describes dioxins as “the Darth Vader of toxins.” DuPont presumably began belching dioxin when the “chloride” process started up around 1956. But, DuPont doesn’t admit to knowing about the dioxin releases until the 1990s, and only then as a result of investigations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Dioxins and furans are some of the most toxic chemicals known to science. A draft report released for public comment in September 1994 by the US Environmental Protection Agency clearly describes dioxin as a serious public health threat. The public health impact of dioxin may rival the impact that DDT had on public health in the 1960’s. According to the EPA report, not only does there appear to be no “safe” level of exposure to dioxin, but levels of dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals have been found in the general US population that are “at or near levels associated with adverse health effects.”
Note that this report is over 20 years old. Yet relentless lobbying, often spearheaded by DuPont, has prevented effective regulation of dioxins.
The Edge-Moor plant has long been one of the world’s largest dioxin sources. In 2002 Green Delaware reported “EDGE MOOR PLANT RESPONSIBLE FOR ABOUT 39 PERCENT OF ALL REPORTED DIOXIN RELEASES IN UNITED STATES.”
On June 13, 2006 we reported:
The three largest dioxin sources in the United States are DuPont’s Edge Moor (Delaware), DeLisle (Mississippi), and New Johnsonville (Tennessee), titanium dioxide plants. The Delaware plant has generally been the worst:. For 2001, Edge Moor reported 169 pounds of dioxin, 52 percent of total US dioxin. In that year DuPont overall was responsible for 70 percent of reported US dioxin. (For details see Green Delaware’s website, especially Alert 242 at [http://www.greendel.org/2015/09/17/alert-242-52-of-total-us-dioxin-emissions-are-from-delaware-up-from-38-in-2000/])
Dioxin has only been reported under the “TRI” since 2000, but DuPont’s Edge Moor plant has been running the dioxin-making “chloride” process since about 1956. Here is a brief summary of DuPont Edge Moor dioxin data reported under the Toxics Release Inventory (which the Bush administration is trying to curtail):
2000 85 pounds
2001 169 pounds
2002 153 pounds
2003 91 pounds
2004 62 pounds
total 560 pounds
Most of this has gone into “solid waste” and not directly into the air. But people have been exposed to the dust. In recent years most of these wastes have gone to a garbage dump in Lee County, South Carolina, as an unregulated waste–and apparently with no warnings to the community. Before that it was piled up on the banks of the Delaware River in the notorious “Dioxin Pile” the Minner administration seems determined to protect. Before that it was casually piled up, spread around, put into the Cherry Island garbage dump, used by the Corps of Engineers to build berms, etc. (For more information, search on “Dioxin Pile” at www.greendel.org. Particularly, learn about how State Representative Diana McWilliams and State Senator Harris McDowell have sided with DuPont over the health of their constituents.)
Dioxin-contaminated wastes from Edge Moor have also intentionally been added to Wilmington’s drinking water–as a “filter aid.”
On May 23, 2002, we reported:
“It seems very likely that dioxin from DuPont at Edge-Moor have caused serious health problems in Delaware. Hundreds of people near a similar DuPont plant in Mississippi are planning to sue DuPont,” said Alan Muller of Green Delaware.
A very brief history of the Dioxin Pile
DuPont accumulated a big “Dioxin Pile” of wastes, supposedly with the intent to sell them. When that didn’t pan out, DuPont sought permission from the DNREC to reclassify the “staging area” into a permanent dumpsite to stay forever on the banks of the Delaware River. The pile is near the Edge-Moor plant but on a separate parcel.
There was widespread opposition to this, but DuPont got its way in two ways: (1) picking off the opposition one by one and destroying community solidarity, and (2) Rep. Diana McWilliams connived with DNREC official Dave Small (since disgracefully appointed Secretary by Gov. Jack Markell) to push a bogus “independent study” scam through the Delaware General Assembly.
The “Independent Study,” concluded–guess what?–that there was no problem with the toxic Dioxin Pile but there were concerns about the dredge spoil (silt dredged from the river) under the pile and more groundwater monitoring should be done. We don’t know if that ever happened as DNREC waste officials are stonewalling Green Delaware, refusing to talk to us.
This facility is a major health and environmental nightmare. It is the worst possible sort of industrial facility to be located in a populated area or in Delaware’s protected Coastal Zone. Keep in mind that various (un)public officials will doubtless be conniving to keep the plant open.
A giant pile of harmful waste, the “Dioxin Pile,” has been left on the banks of the Delaware River, where the rising seas and increasing violent storms coming with climate change are sure to begin washing it into the river.
The spinoff of Chemours from DuPont may be intended, at least partly, to dodge the liability for the Edge-Moor situation.