Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Blades groundwater contamination assigned to federal Superfund priority list

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
The carbon filtration system in the Town of Blades

The Blades groundwater contamination site will be added to the Superfund National Priorities List this month. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers sites on the list the “most serious” uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination in the country. Only sites on the list can receive federal funding for long-term and permanent cleanup.

EPA press officer David Sternberg said in an email last fall that a finalized listing would allow the agency to use “Superfund authority and resources” to work with state officials to identify the sources of contamination and “help resolve” the groundwater concerns in the Blades area. 

Blades residents were told to stop drinking municipal water in 2018 after elevated levels of toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—specifically PFOS and PFOA—were found in public and private wells there. The EPA thinks the contamination came at least in part from nearby electroplating facilities, one closed and one still in operation. The drinking water is currently treated with carbon filtration which officials say makes it safe to drink. 

“The water has been testing perfect,” said Blades Town Administrator Lisa Marks Wednesday. 

But Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin says there’s still work to be done to make sure there’s a reliable source of drinking water in the future.

“We’ve taken care of the immediate problem,” said Garvin. “But this is a look at the long term problem to try to pinpoint where the sources of contamination is coming from.”

Garvin says without remediation, the contamination is at risk of migrating and compromising other source water in the area. 

According to the EPA, the Blades-area groundwater was found to be contaminated also with metals such as chromium, cobalt, nickel, zinc and hexavalent chromium in 2018. 

PFAS levels in the town’s three municipal wells, which serve around 1,600 people, as well as seven private domestic wells, were found to be above the EPA’s unenforceable health advisory level. PFAS are a group of man-made compounds used in consumer products, such as non-stick pans, as well as a variety of industrial and commercial processes, like metal-plating. PFAS have been found to increase the risk of cancer and affect human development, fertility and the immune system, according to the CDC.

During the public comment period for the listing, EPA heard a concern that the Blades listing might affect property values. 

But the agency said in its pre-publication final rule notice late last month that listing the site should lead to greater protection of health and the environment—and cleanup would likely offset any hit to property values. 

PFAS contamination has also been found in drinking water near military bases in New Castle and Dover. 

New Castle residents participated in a national PFAS exposure study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is ongoing. 

The blood of the more than 200 residents who participated contains three specific PFAS chemicals at levels several times the national average, according to aggregate results released in June. Blood levels of three other PFAS chemicals were found to be similar to national averages. 

The last Delaware sites to be added to the National Priorities List were the Hockessin and Newark South groundwater plumes in 2018. 


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
Related Content