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Industry treatment of air, land pollutants put more nitrates into water in 2014

Delaware Public Media

Delaware industrial facilities released fewer toxic chemicals into land and air in 2014, but put more into waterways through on-site treatment.


The state collected data on 88 chemicals released from 57 facilities, including power stations, refineries, factories and poultry processing plants, for its 2014 Toxics Release Inventory, or TRI.


DNREC saw a 22 percent increase in overall waste output -- but a 7 percent decrease in on-site chemical releases to land, air and water. They say it means more facilities are treating metals and other waste on-site in order to get rid of it.

Water releases still account for 77 percent of all chemical outputs -- 3.75 million pounds in all in 2014 -- and most come from the Delaware City Refinery. DNREC's Debra Nielsen says the refinery is scrubbing more pollutants from the air, generating nitrates that are released into waterways.

"So in keeping with their permit and state of the art technology, and minimizing the impact to human health and the environment, they end up releasing that as a byproduct of their operation," she says.

Nitrate releases to water have jumped up 138 percent statewide in the past decade. Right now, facilities can't break down nitrates any further, or remove them from raw materials like crude oil before processing.


"If you're getting it out of the air, right now, what you end up with is a less hazardous chemical," Nielsen says. "But it's still TRI-reportable that that's in the water."

With better technology, though, she says water releases could go the way of land and air, which have almost zeroed out in recent years.

"Really the pressure for them to do better comes from the public -- that this data is in the public domain," Nielsen says. "That old saying, you can't change what you don't measure -- over time, as this info has become public and they've focused on it more, we've seen pretty much an improvement, particularly in the on-site releases."

Nielsen notes that the TRI is separate from other parts of the state's hazardous waste reporting, much of which goes directly to the federal government. And only facilities of a certain size and staff or larger are required to report for the TRI.

Companies are also responsible for tracking of their own data. Nielsen says that could account for fluctuations over the years as facilities have changed hands.