Delaware River cleanup clashes with corporate chemical companies like DuPont

Abby Donnelly
Flickr/Jeffrey Duda

(CHESTER COUNTRY, Pa.) New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York all share a portion of responsibility for what was once one of the most polluted waterways in the country, the Delaware River. Now, the 301-mile basin faces a threat beyond its biological control with the widespread pollution directed by chemical titans, including DuPont, Chemours, and Corteva.

In early July, the State of Delaware challenged these corporations with a $50 million settlement related to their harmful contribution to the damage of the Delaware River. The case largely discussed per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAs, a class of manufactured chemicals especially toxic to ecosystems and human health where they are dumped as waste.  

While there remains gaps in knowledge about the damage of these chemicals, some known harmful effects of PFA exposure to humans, according to the CDC, include:

  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Liver enzyme changes
  • Decreased vaccine response
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure
  • Decrease in infant birth weight
  • Increased risk of kidney or testicular cancer

The waterway struggles with an extensive history of pollution and revitalized cleanup efforts. In the 1960s, the Delaware River flourished with bacteria due to dumped sewage, oil, and chemicals. In response, the local community has been committed to reshaping the future for the basin, drastically reducing the percentage of pollution through cleanup efforts. In April 2020, it was named the River of the Year due to immense progress in water quality.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) has spearheaded the voice for the waterway since its inception in 1988. Today, the DRN still advocates for policies and programs to continue improving the water quality, aquatic ecosystem, and human health impacts. On July 16, the DRN joined local constituents in marching in the Stop PennEast Pipeline Rally to protest the pipeline’s potential for PFA waste.

A similar nonprofit organization, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, recently helped pass The Clean Water for Delaware Act through Governor Carney. Members of the local community say they will continue to protect the water against toxic pollution and push for relief legislation. In response to the recent settlement, Dupont’s CEO, Edward D. Breen stated, “This settlement could not have been achieved without the goodwill and assistance of all parties”

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A Delaware-based journalist highlighting local stories on health, education, and science. Abby is an undergraduate at Georgetown University studying global health and journalism.

Wilmington, DE

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