Alert #43

Stop proposed 50% increase in City of Wilmington sewage pollution:


Port Penn, DE. December 1, 1999. The City of Wilmington DE dumps treated sewage into the Delaware River, and untreated (raw) sewage into its tributaries Christina River and Brandywine Creek through about 40 "combined sewer overflows" ("CSOs"). These waterways are so highly polluted that fish caught in them cannot be safely eaten due to contamination with PCBs, mercury and other pollutants. They stink. Condoms and such float by. For several years Green Delaware has worked to clean up this situation. Authorities response:

Delaware environmental officials demanded Green Delaware's mailing list, threatening to alter our testimony at a hearing unless we handed it over. (Of course, we refused, but no mainstream Delaware environmental organization supported us.) The Gannett-owned Wilmington News Journal editorialized in favor of this demand for our membership list, and later on their columnist Harry Themal wrote that we were "Stone Age" people.

The Delaware General Assembly set up a "Combined Sewer Overflow Task Force." We were not invited to the meetings, and the group made a report which DID NOT call for the elimination of the CSO's. Thanks to Delaware Senator Patty Blevins for this one.

The University of Delaware arrested us for distributing leaflets calling for cleanup of the Wilmington sewers. It did not arrest Attorney General M. Jane Brady and other pols campaigning nearby. While the University eventually dropped charges and apologized, the student environmental organization ("Students for the Environment"), the campus branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, and the student newspaper ("The Review") all helped cover up the scandal. The News ("Stooge") Journal, of course, blacked it out, as did WHYY "public" televison station (Channel 12).

Now the City has requested and the Administration of Governor Tom Carper (now running for the US Senate) has proposed to give Wilmington a permit allowing a FIFTY PERCENT INCREASE in sewage pollutant dumping into the Delaware River. Average daily dumping of listed pollutants would increase from 49 to 73 thousand pounds per day. Lead would increase from 50 to 55 pounds per day (20,000 pounds per year). Mercury would increase to 175 pounds per year. Chromium would increase to 168 pounds per day. And so on. No limitations, or even monitoring, are proposed for PCBs, dioxins and other "persistent bioaccumulative toxins" known to be present in the Wilmington sewers. The Delaware River Basin Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency seem ready to go along with this.

Green Delaware objects to this permit and requested a public hearing, to be held on December 1 at 1900 in the Council Chambers, City County Building, Wilmington, DE. Delaware Div. of Water Resources folk have ways of making public hearings into farces. Example: at a previous hearing requested by Green Delaware, also about increased pollution of the Delaware River (in this case the dumper was the utility Conectiv) the hearing was held more than an hour away from the site in question and the permit writer and other knowledgeable officials were told to stay away so they couldn't be questioned. The Hearing Officer was grossly hostile. The only member of Delaware's "environmental community" to appear (Jerry Shields) testified in favor of Conectiv. In the present case, officials have scheduled a "workshop" before the hearing, with the obvious intent of reducing the actual hearing (the only legally significant event) to a technicality. Sid Sharma, the responsible Wilmington Dept. of Public Works official, told us this afternoon that he won't attend the hearing. Mayor Jim Sills' assistant Tom Noyes has told us that the Mayor's office won't be represented either. We've responded by asking that the "workshop" be canceled, and--per the law governing such public hearings--that subpoenas be issued to appropriate City and State officials to make them show up. 

On October 20th we met with Mayor Sills of Wilmington. We asked him to withdraw the permit application and work with us to design and fund a real cleanup of the Wilmington sewers. (The Federal government has given many billions of dollars for sewer cleanups to cities smart enough to ask for money.) Key bad actor--and the people who actually tell Sills what do to--are the DuPont Company and MBNA (a credit card bank having deals with the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council). These corporations run Delaware like a feudal estate, and their thousands of employees in Wilmington poop directly into the rivers whenever it rains.

Are you still with us? We know all this sounds absurd, but it's real--environmental regulation in the belly of the beast, "The chemical capital of the world." As usual, we are asking our friends for help. Join us in opposing the proposed permit, either by attending the hearing or by contacting these people, and--if you live in Delaware-your local Senator and Representative: Nick DiPasquale, Delaware's Secretary of Natural Resources, 302.739.4403, ndipasqualr@state.de.us; Governor Carper, 302.577.3210, ssnyder@gov.state.de.us; Mayor Sills, 302.571.4160, mayor@ci.wilmington.de.us; the Delaware River Basin Comm., 609.883.9500, ccollier@drbc.state.nj.us; and the EPA, 215.814.2900, r3public@epamail.epa.gov. Let them hear from you. Contact the Sierra Club (carl.pope@sierraclub.org, JAMES.J.STEFFENS@usa.dupont.com) and ask it to stop taking money from MBNA until the bank cleans up its act. (Send us copies please.)

Look for more details in upcoming Green Delaware News. (C) Alan Muller


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Alan J. Muller, Coordinator
P.O. Box 69
Port Penn, DE 19731
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This page was last updated on January 8, 2000.