Delaware City: An Environmental Justice Community
Delaware City is a historic coastal town located where the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal meets the Delaware River in New Castle County. Through its history, the city and its surrounding areas have been the location of numerous industries, ranging from agriculture and fishing to oil refining and chemical manufacture. While the community is surrounded by state parks and ecologically-diverse wetlands, it is also a major hub for industrial pollution from numerous nearby chemical industries and hazardous waste sites.
In 2012 the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club developed an environmental justice partnership with the Delaware City Environmental Coalition to assist the community in addressing their environmental justice concerns.
Power Elements and a Vulnerable Population
Delaware City is home to approximately 1700 residents whose community is enclosed by multiple Superfund sites. While not an economically depressed community, median household income is nearly $10,000 less than the state at large. Residents are two times less likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than the state average. In contrast to these marginalizing figures, the chemical industries in this area have an inordinate amount of power and influence and often hold sway in state decision making processes due to “jobs” based arguments. A recent example is that of the Delaware City Refinery (PBF Energy Partners) and its 2010 acquisition of the defunct refinery site. The Refinery was granted $45 million in state aid, during a time of austerity, that has seen hundreds of millions in state budget shortfalls. The towns populace was recently further marginalized when nine daily bus routes to and from Delaware City were eliminated.
Lack of Transparency
The Delaware City Refinery has a history of emissions and safety violations, along with a lack of transparency in reporting. As recent as Fall of 2011, the plant emitted hydrogen cyanide were for three weeks without proper public notification. In February 2012 thousands of pounds of toxins (including sulfur dioxide and other pollutants) were emitted into the air due to systems failures, again the firm was slow in addressing the public with meaningful information. On a single Monday in mid-February, the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions were more than half the annual amount of what federal guidelines rank as a major source of pollution. In light of these types of incidents, along with numerous DNREC cited violations, it was baffling that state environmental regulators sought to fast track a permitting process for a now deferred $1 billion refinery expansion project.
The Public Interest
With a scheduled fast tracked permitting process and millions in aid given to industry, the state of Delaware and industries’ commitment to citizen health has to be scrutinized. In juxtaposition to the $45,000,000 in aid that The Delaware City Refinery received, the state could not find funds for a statewide body-burden assessment for toxics to determine the cause of alarmingly high cancer rates. This is problematic due to the inordinate number of cancer clusters in a state that is desperate need of toxics reform. Furthermore, a community organization, the Delaware City Environmental Coalition, led the charge for community-wide air monitoring for toxics; not the state nor industry.