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Wilmington City Council urges DNREC to consider 'cumulative impacts' of pollution in permit approval

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
Industrial facilities, like Diamond Materials, sit in close proximity to homes on the Route 9 Corridor and in Southbridge just to the north

Wilmington City Council is pushing for state environmental regulators to broaden their considerations when granting permits to new facilities. 


Wilmington City Council unanimously passed a resolutionThursday urging Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to consider the cumulative impacts of multiple pollutants from other sources before approving construction permits to new facilities that will emit air toxins or other pollutants — particularly within “environmental justice” neighborhoods.

The resolution was sponsored by three council members with ties to Southbridge,  a neighborhood they argue has borne the brunt of industry, resulting in high rates of cancer, asthma and brownfield contamination. 

“Southbridge is a very tight community. We can identify on almost every block where someone has died of cancer, or has died of asthma because of the pollutants that we’re surrounded by,” said co-sponsor and City Council President Hanifa Shabazz.

The resolution defines “cumulative impacts” as “risks and impacts caused by multiple pollutants, usually emitted by multiple sources, exacerbated by their interaction with each other and with any social vulnerabilities that exist in a community.”

Stephanie Herron, former city resident and environmental justice organizer at national nonprofit Coming Clean, spoke in favor of the resolution. 

“Right now the way that pollution is regulated in Delaware and most places is that every individual contaminant is regulated one at a time, and every individual facility is regulated one at a time,” she said. “When there’s a state-wide budget for an air pollutant, all of those facilities could be located in one or two neighborhoods, and that is what we’ve seen historically.”

Michele Roberts, environmental justice advocate at Coming Clean and Wilmington native, called the resolution a “very good first step.”

“We must find, as we are throughout the national environmental justice movement, the right way to make sure that the health and wellbeing of all of our people, especially those who are most disproportionately impacted, are taken care of,” she said. 

DNREC officials said in response to the resolution that the Department applies “rigorous permitting standards that incorporate the requirements of Federal and State regulations” to all facilities throughout the state, and that this process includes air quality modeling that “ensures that the impact on neighboring properties is minimized.”

The resolution also condemns DNREC’s approvalin August of a construction permit to a Walan Specialty Construction Products in Southbridge despite community opposition.

At a community meeting about the proposed slag grinding facility last winter, several locals cast conditions in Southbridge and the adjacent Route 9 corridor as environmental racism.

According to the Wilmington Area Planning Council, the neighborhoods closest to the Port are predominantly African American.

The area is marked by industrial-zoned land in close proximity to residential land. A 2017 Union of Concerned Scientists reportidentified several of the neighborhoods in the area as having “substantially higher cancer risks” than a comparison community.

DNREC officials maintain community input was considered in the approval of the Walan permit, resulting in a comprehensive fugitive dust control plan and additional control measures not included in Walan’s original permit application.

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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