Ongoing concerns about Sussex County water contamination have environmentalists stressing the importance of Southern Delaware homeowners getting their wells tested.
The League of Women Voters held a forum on safe drinking water Wednesday night in Georgetown.
Sixty percent of Delaware residents get their drinking water from wells. A 2016 environmental assessment from Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control shows about 5 percent of 30,000 well tests came back contaminated. All of them were in Sussex County.
Former Environmental Protection Agency chemist and Sussex County resident John Austin says the state does not test residential wells, making it up to the individual to ensure his or her own safety. He recommends residents should test their wells annually, which they can do through Delaware's Department of Health and Social Services.
Nitrate contamination exists largely in the Indian River watershed because of past agricultural practices and sandy soil, he said.
"Once the nitrate is applied to the field to grow their crops and once it moves down in the ground past the roots zone, it’s going to the groundwater. Years and years of fertilized application has resulted in the scatter map of high nitrate wells in that watershed," Austin said.
The forum held by the League of Women Voters of Delaware focused on how wastewater disposal can contaminate residential wells. Sandy Spence, the volunteer chair of the environmental and natural resources committee for the Sussex league says issues with drinking water in Blades, Millsboro, Milton and Ellendale have led her group to work to spread awareness in the community.
"I think a lot of people were unaware that their neighbors did not have clean water," Spence said. "I think they didn't realize how high nitrates could affect them."
The EPA's maximum contaminant level for nitrates is 10 milligrams per liter. Anything above that is considered unsafe to drink, because it is associated with miscarriages, cancer and other diseases.
Residents in the Milton-area are worried about an incoming wastewater storage facility operated by Artesian Water that will store and dispose of poultry company Allen Harim’s treated wastewater.
Austin says he is concerned the water supply of close to 3,000 people could be at risk due to high levels of nitrates and contamination already present from a septic site called Clean Delaware, plus additional nitrates from Allen Harim's treated wastewater.
"If the Artesian-Allen plan that was approved goes forward, it will move that contamination further faster, towards the city of Milton’s wells," Austin said.
A grassroots group of Milton-area residents, Keep Our Wells Clean, is appealing the project with the state environmental department. Their appeal is scheduled for the end of May.