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How Delaware could use its $50 million PFAS settlement

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media
Delaware settled with Chemours, DuPont and Corteva over PFAS contamination

The state gets $50 million to put toward efforts to deal with contamination by a group of toxic legacy chemicals. It’s not determined yet how the money will be spent. 

Money from Delaware’s settlement this week with DuPont and two spinoff companies over PFAS contamination in the state will be administered by the state environmental and health agencies. It can be used for sampling, cleanup, research and development—as well as environmental justice grants for things like community health clinics. 

PFAS chemicals have been linked to cancer and other health problems, and have been found in drinking water in all three of Delaware’s counties, as well as the Delaware River and Bay. A national study by the CDC revealed some residents of New Castle have three PFAS chemicals in their blood at levels several times national averages.

Proponents of the settlement note it gets Delawareans money faster than litigation likely would. Still, state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Sec. Shawn Garvin says the money won’t be spent “overnight.”

Garvin says it could help the state develop regulations limiting PFAS in drinking water. 

“We've been going out and doing sampling,” he said. “And so we look at this funding to help support continuing those efforts. And just getting a better handle and moving towards creating, potentially, a state [maximum] contaminant level, if the federal government doesn't get to it first.”

There is currently no enforceable federal standard for PFAS in drinking water, but this summer the General Assembly passed a bill that would see the state develop its own, like New Jersey has done. In addition to directing DNREC and the Division of Public Health to develop Maximum Contaminant Levels, which would require public water systems to proactively test for the chemicals, the legislation mandates a statewide “survey” of PFAS in drinking water. The measure is currently awaiting Governor John Carney’s signature.

Gerald Kauffman, director of the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Center, says the money should be spent primarily in the communities in all three counties that have been most affected by the chemicals. 

“Things like public parks that people could benefit from, water parks, … restoration of the waterways, restoration of the wetlands,” he said. “Invest the money where these substances were manufactured in the first place.”

Artesian and the City of New Castle’s water utility shut down and installed filters on drinking water wells near the Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle after finding them contaminated with PFAS in 2014. Blades residents were told to stop drinking municipal water in 2018 after elevated levels of PFAS were found in public and private wells there. Last year the Blades groundwater contamination site was added to the Superfund National Priorities List, which includes the “most serious” uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination in the country. PFAS have also been detected in private wells near the Dover Air Force Base at levels up tothousands of times the EPA’s unenforceable health advisory level. 

Kauffman says the R&D money could go to developing effective and safe alternatives to the PFAS-containing firefighting foam still used in emergencies on military bases, or to developing rapid testing for PFAS. 

DNREC and the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) plan to work together to develop a plan for the money. 

“Although funding specifics are not yet known, the collaboration between DPH and DNREC ensures that the goals of protecting both public health and the environment will be balanced in the projects undertaken,” said DHSS spokesperson Mary Fenimore in an email.  “Funding will allow further reach into underserved communities to address drinking water issues as part of the broader DPH EJ work, similar to the support provided to recent projects in Cheswold and Ellendale as well as the forthcoming Low Income Household Water Assistance Program.”

Fenimore added that DNREC and DHSS are discussing responding to PFAS impacts “both known and potential.”

The settlement could also provide Delaware up to an additional $25 million, depending on whether other states secure similar settlements with the companies.

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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