The results of an environmental investigation conducted by state officials at the former Vlasic Pickle plant in Dagsboro were presented to concerned residents at a recent public workshop.
The workshop, held Thursday in Millsboro by the Delaware Department of Natural Resource’s Community Involvement Advisory Council, addressed concerns surrounding plans by Allen M. Harim Foods to convert the old pickle factory into a poultry processing plant.
Although Allen Harim has yet to purchase the site, the company has entered into a brownfields development agreement with DNREC to address environmental contaminants left behind by Vlasic, owned by Pinnacle Foods. The site was certified as a brownfield in July and a brownfield investigation was conducted in August and September, revealing elevated levels of the chemicals perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene and lead in the groundwater. Levels of nitrates in some wells also exceeded state standards.
Soil, sediment and soil gases were also tested in the investigation; however the results did not reflect a risk that required remedial action.
Morgan Price, of DNREC’s Site Investigation and Remediation Section, said because groundwater is the only environmental area of concern, remediation will focus on implementation of a groundwater monitoring plan.
“If the results of the monitoring show the contaminants are migrating or showing an increasing trend, DNREC may require other remedial actions,” Price said. “The monitoring plan will include a sampling of a number of monitoring wells and all the drinking wells on the site.”
A public hearing regarding the brownfield investigation and remediation plan, both available to view at www.dnrec.delaware.gov, will be held at 6 p.m. on Dec. 17 at the Millsboro Town Hall, 322 Wilson Highway.
Ed Hallock, of the state Office of Drinking Water, said high levels of nitrates have historically been an issue at the Vlasic plant.
“[Vlasic] added treatment and they drilled different wells to keep their nitrates below the maximum level of contamination,” Hallock said at the workshop. “Nitrates are a concern throughout Sussex County, not just at this location.”
Hallock added the state routinely monitors the drinking water systems of the two nearby mobile home parks – Holiday Acres and Colonial Estates – and that testing reflects nitrate levels that are in compliance with state regulations. In fact, all public water systems are routinely monitored by the state. Private wells, on the other hand, are not monitored and some residents are concerned chemicals from the site may have migrated into their drinking water. For residents at the workshop with private wells, Hallock’s office provided free water test kits, which can normally be purchased from the state for $4.
Residents at the workshop voiced concerns regarding Vlasic’s recent request for renewal of their National Pollution Elimination Discharge System permit, which regulates discharge into waterways. The plant shut down its pickle-making operations in 2011.
Page 2 of 2 - “We all know Vlasic has no intention of operating at the site and discharging any wastewater under this permit,” said Maria Payan, a representative of the national group Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. “Knowing this, why would DNREC even accept a request for renewal of the permit? Allen Harim will open an entirely new operation and will need a different permit.”
Kathy Stiller, of DNREC’s Division of Water Resources, said the state has received a request from Pinnacle Foods for a renewed permit. The permit has been administratively extended while the request is reviewed. An application for an NPEDS permit from Allen Harim has not yet been filed.
Tim Ratsep, administrator of DNREC’s Site Investigation and Remediation Section, addressed several questions at the workshop regarding Pinnacle’s liability in the cost of the site’s cleanup. The state could reimburse Allen Harim for up to $200,000 for environmental remediation.
“We’ve been given the authority to expend funds given to us by the General Assembly for the brownfield program,” Ratsep said, adding Pinnacle is liable for cleanup costs until a sale is finalized with Allen Harim. “If the brownfield program didn’t exist and Pinnacle didn’t want to sell their site because they didn’t want to deal with the environmental issues, then Allen Harim could go open up in a cornfield, or a greenfield. That’s what this program is trying to discourage.”
While many residents said the workshop with DNREC was helpful, some are still concerned about the poultry plant causing even more environmental damage.
“I’m concerned about the pollutants because my husband has multiple sclerosis, bladder cancer and kidney cancer and I have rheumatoid arthritis,” said Pat Catalano, a resident of Wharton’s Bluff. “I’m worried about the well-being and health of not just my family, but of other families. It’s scary.”