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Croda seeks environmental permit, sees pushback ahead of hearing

Croda, Inc.

The chemical plant in New Castle where a toxic gas leak occurred nearly two years ago is applying for a state permit. Elected officials at the county level are already lining up against it.

Croda wants to build two new tanks, one for blending and one for storing chemicals, at its Atlas Point site along Route 9. Company officials say the project is not related to the ethylene oxide unit where a 2018toxic gas leak temporarily shut down the Delaware Memorial Bridge. 

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Air Quality will hold a virtual hearing on Croda’s permit application Tuesday. 

But New Castle County Council already passed a resolution opposing the application. The measure, sponsored by Councilman Jea Street, Sr., who represents the New Castle area, cites the increase in air pollution the project would cause, as well as the company’s “troubling environmental history” and “insufficient” emergency notifications and procedures. 

“This is a matter of the haves versus the have-nots,” he said Tuesday.

Eight council members supported the resolution. Council members Janet Kilpatrick, Timothy Sheldon, David Tackett and Kenneth Woods opposed it. 

According to DNREC, the new tanks would increase the plant’s emissions of air pollutants known as volatile organic compounds, including the hazardous pollutant dioxane, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says may cause cancer. 

Atlas Point site manager Chris Barnett defended the project Tuesday, saying he saw the resolution as a “vote of no confidence” in the company. He said the company wants to be a good neighbor to the surrounding community. 

“We certainly want to be a productive part of the economy in Delaware, in New Castle,” he said. “We like being in Delaware, and we’ve had a long history in New Castle. And we think we can have a long future there, being environmentally conscious.”

Barnett said while the two new tanks would increase air emissions, a different project the company is already permitted for will decrease emissions. 

According to the permit application, the company is not seeking an increase in its facility-wide emissions limit of 20 tons of volatile organic compounds per year. 

Larry Lambert, a candidate for state representative who has been outspoken about environmental issues along the Route 9 Corridor where his nephews live since the 2018 leak, supported Council’s resolution, pointing to the company’s handling of the leak. The chemical manufacturer was criticized not only for the error that caused the leak but for its subsequent communication with residents. 

“This isn’t a hard one,” Lambert told Council Tuesday. “We appreciate you supporting the people over profits. These are life and death issues.”

Dora Williams, a resident of Rose Hill Gardens on the Route 9 Corridor, agreed. She emphasized the compounding impacts of various industries located there. 

“I am opposed to any increase in emissions,” she said. “Anything that is going to add to our flood zone, stockpile of landfills, ethylene oxide, chemical plants, ... all contaminants serving under the auspices of economic growth.”

But Dan McDermott, a Croda employee of 25 years and union president at the Atlas Point plant, argued the company has invested in the community.

“A lot of guys in the neighborhood work there,” he said. “It isn’t like they’ve totally ignored the neighborhood. They have long-time excellent safety. They’ve had one significant issue.”

The public will not be able to make live comments during DNRECs permit hearing next week. Dustyn Thompson of the Delaware Sierra Club sees as a problem. 

“They are not allowing anybody from the public to speak on this before this permit is decided unless they have internet access and can email and write out their comments,” he said. “That is just unjust and really presumptuous.”


DNREC is accepting written comments on Croda’s permit application until July 31.

County Council effectively curtailed the nearby Delaware Recyclable Products, Inc. landfill’s bid to expand last year over similar concerns about the environment and neighbors' quality of life. A county ordinance finalized last summer limited the height of landfills to 140 feet above median sea level. DNREC granted the Minquadale-area landfill’s expansion to the new zoning limit in March.

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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