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Hazardous material at soon-to-close Chemours plant could spark legislation

Delaware Public Media

In the wake of Chemours announcing the shuttering of their Edge Moor plant in Wilmington, one state lawmaker is reviving efforts to clean up a pile of hazardous material left on site.

Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark), launched a petition Thursday, writing, “Governor Markell, we the undersigned demand that you protect the health and welfare of Delaware’s residents by mandating the total removal of the hazardous waste pile containing titanium dioxide, benzene, and a host of other life threatening toxins at its Edge Moor facility holding both DuPont and Chemours fully liable (jointly and severally) for the any costs borne by taxpayers for clean-up.”

500,000 tons of titanium dioxide byproduct waste was encapsulated at the Hay Road site in 2011 after the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control signed off on Dupont’s remediation proposal despite strong public backlash to move it out of the state entirely. Dupont spun off its performance chemical division in July, naming it Chemours.

“I’m concerned that this may have been a deliberate move, Dupont divesting itself of responsibility because they fought tooth-and-nail against removal of that pile,” Kowalko said.

In a statement, Chemours spokesperson Janet Smith says the site will continue to be owned and managed by the company and that they will "continue to operate responsibly and meet all regulatory commitments."

Smith says money has been set aside to cover ongoing costs, but did not immediately respond to questions of how long those reserves will last.

An independent study issued by Schnabel Engineering that was mandated by the General Assembly raised serious concerns, which, after further soil and water tests, were determined to be less severe than initially thought.

But state officials acknowledged other potentially carcinogenic waste underneath the dioxide pile that could pose risks while dismissing concerns over potential public health problems and ordered further groundwater monitoring into the future.

“Overall, the proposed remedy will ensure, with an ample margin of safety, that the site will not pose any significant risk to the environment or public health with the possible exception of ecological impacts from the underlying dredge material located throughout the area,” wrote then DNREC Secretary John Hughes.

The nearly 23-acre site sits next to the Delaware River, east of I-495 and within a mile of surrounding neighborhoods and other waterways. Earlier this spring, Dupont installed more than 4,000 solar panels on part of the encapsulated pile that generate enough electricity to power nearly 150 homes for a year, on average.

Kowalko proposed legislation in 2007 and 2009 that would have forced companies to safely treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste they generate in Delaware according to federal standards.

“Once we allow these things to accumulate, eventually, we’re looking tragedy in the eye,” said Kowalko. “I think that we have to be more respectful of what we are using, what we are making, what we are distributing and how we are storing it in between distribution.”

Those measures failed partially due to opposition from DNREC.

The then Director for the Division of Air and Waste Management James Werner wrote in a 2009 email to Kowalko that his proposal would, in certain instances, diminish Delaware’s regulations regarding certain waste and how they’re transported in the state.

Werner also noted that it could be cost-prohibitive for his agency.

“A complete side-by-side review of Delaware vs. federal regulations would be a major undertaking for which we are not currently funded or staffed,” he wrote.

Kowalko says should his petition not prompt executive action on the issue, he would work with DNREC to settle their differences and draft a similar bill for the General Assembly to consider next year.

In announcing the plant’s closing last week, the company says it plans to decommission the facility by next March. They say they will work with state and local officials to help redevelop the site.

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