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DRPI landfill operators call drinking water claims 'misinformation' ahead of planned rally

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

Operators of a New Castle-area landfill are seeking to dispel what they call “misinformation” ahead of a protest by elected officials and activists against its proposed expansion.


Waste Management sent a letter to New Castle County Council Friday calling allegations painting the proposed expansion of its Delaware Recyclable Products, Inc. landfill in West Minquadale a threat to the public drinking water supply “gross misrepresentations.”

Mike Brennan, environmental counsel at Waste Management, wrote in the letter that natural geology and engineering controls “preclude groundwater from traveling from the landfill to any drinking water aquifer.” He claims more than two decades of data show the landfill is not degrading groundwater quality.

The landfill accepting construction and demolition waste from several surrounding states has applied for a permit modification from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to expand vertically from a maximum permitted height of 130 feet above sea level to 190 feet. Waste Management says if the landfill does not expand, it could fill up and be forced to close in roughly a year. 

But elected officials, community members and advocacy groups including the Delaware Sierra Club plan to rally Saturday morning near the landfill to protest its proposed expansion — under the banner, “Protect Our Water.” 

State Rep. Frank Cooke plans to speak at the rally. "We don't want a Flint, Michigan here," he said. "This is very, very important with this water, and these aquifers."

Cooke and other rally organizers cite comments Artesian Water Company made last month to DNREC raising questions about the landfill’s potential impact on groundwater.

Artesian operates several wells in the area it says are hydrogeologically downstream from the landfill. 

Jeff Bross is a consultant with Duffield Associates, hired by Artesian. He says Artesian has been finding and treating contaminants in downstream drinking water wells for years, but hasn’t been able to figure out where these contaminants are coming from. 

“When Waste Management filed an application to expand the landfill, Artesian became aware of all this information, and basically hired some outside consultants to take a look at it, and have as a result come to the conclusion that it’s possible that the landfill could be either the source of some of these contaminants or a future source of the contaminants,” he said. “Obviously the concern is even heightened with the expansion.”

In its comments, Artesian and hired consultants contend that elevated levels of iron and manganese in the landfill’s own groundwater monitoring data could indicate a release of pollutants from the landfill into groundwater. 

“They are indicator parameters,” said Bross. “They suggest they’re not something you would typically find at these concentrations at that location. So it would suggest there is some sort of man-made reason for them to be there.”

“What we’re saying is the extent of monitoring—even the location of the wells, the number of wells, where they’re screened—is really not appropriate to reach a final conclusion,” he added. 

Bross says the landfill’s groundwater monitoring is not sufficient to characterize pollution that could leach out of it — or to compare with the contaminants Artesian is finding and treating in the nearby wells. “The number of constituents, chemicals, that are being looked for in the landfill is a very, very limited number.”

Waste Management representatives counter that the landfill monitors an “extensive list of parameters” specified by DNREC in its groundwater testing. They say detections of iron and manganese do not indicate issues related to the landfill and that both constituents occur naturally in the underlying geologic formations. 

Gerald Kauffman, director of the Water Resources Center at the University of Delaware, says DNREC’s review of the landfill’s bid to expand should bring answers. 

“These kinds of suppositions made by hydrologists on either side, this happens all the time,” he said.. “And the determination is made by the public agency.”

Kauffman says iron and manganese in the landfill’s groundwater monitoring data do appear above natural levels — but more analysis is needed to determine whether these levels indicate pollution from the landfill.

Pending county legislation filed this spring by Councilman Jea Street would stop landfills capped at 140 feet or less from expanding above that limit. County Council Land Use Committee co-chair Janet Kilpatrick said last week the legislation is working its way through the state’s Preliminary Land Use Service (PLUS) and the county Land Use Department— and likely won’t be heard in committee until early fall. 

DNREC officials recently declined to say when a decision on the permit might be made. 

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.
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