Water treatment en route to Dagsboro

Dagsboro town residents might be able to drink their tap water sooner than originally estimated, according to Millsboro Town Manager Faye Lingo.

“We’re hoping to start bringing in equipment this week, and have it installed within a week,” Lingo said.

She expected receipt of the treatment system on Thursday or Friday (Nov. 3-4), and said equipment setup would likely continue straight through the weekend.

For the time being, everyone on central water in Millsboro and Dagsboro is avoiding a mild trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination.

The Town of Dagsboro buys water from its neighbor to the north. And while a routine test actually discovered the contaminant in Dagsboro, subsequent tests quickly established the wells in Millsboro as the source.

Contamination is not so high that Division of Public Health officials have advised residents to avoid using water altogether (although they have advised limiting the time spent in the bath or shower).

The concern with this level of contamination is mainly for drinking the water in quantity, over a long period of time. Eposure in the long term may damage the liver, and TCE is also considered a possible carcinogen. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has maximum levels for TCE at 5 parts per billion (ppb) — contamination at Millsboro wells climbed to 70 or 80 ppb.

In the week following the discovery of the contamination, rumors circulated regarding a possible source of contamination at the south end of town — the former National Cash Register (NCR) manufacturing plant.

However, EPA spokesman David Sternberg (Mid-Atlantic, Region 3) said scientists had ruled out the site as a possible contamination of the Millsboro wells, one mile to the north.

“The contamination appears to be localized, at a couple of hotspots on the site,” he noted.

He also discounted the influence of any possible redirection in groundwater flow, associated with recent rains, plus soil disturbance just south of the NCR site, where the new Millwood community is taking shape. As Sternberg relayed, one of the EPA’s hydrogeologists had informed him that scenario was not plausible.

The highest readings came from monitoring wells directly adjacent to the building, where the chemicals had been stored. TCE levels in the “plume,” extending to the east-northeast to Iron Branch, diminished rapidly with distance from the building. But, Sternberg said, monitoring wells around the perimeter continued to come up clean.

M&T Bank occupies the parcel, presently — it’s been in remediation since the EPA formally declared it a Superfund site in1987. Sternberg said treatment systems at NCR had removed a little more than 400 gallons of TCE since they came online in 1988 — the cleanup is expected to take 30 years.

The search for a source continues elsewhere. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has taken the lead on the investigation, and Lingo said they were running tests closer to the Millsboro wells.

At DNREC’s Site Inspection and Restoration Branch (SIRB), Paul Will said their scientists were still gathering data, as of Oct. 31, but he was expecting some results back by mid-week.

Lingo said they still weren’t sure how much the new treatment system was going to cost, or whether Millsboro would be on the hook for the whole bill.

“Right now, the most important thought is to get the treatment system in place and worry about who picks up the expense later,” she pointed out.

Both Millsboro and Dagsboro will continue to provide free drinking water to residents who are hooked into the central water system (and those residents only). The Delaware National Guard has dispatched a 400-gallon tanker truck to the Dagsboro Fire Hall. Citizens who need clean drinking water should bring their own containers and take only as much as they needed, Dagsboro Mayor Brad Connor reminded residents.

The TCE contamination hasn’t affected either the new Indian River High School or the newly-renamed John M. Clayton School (where Lord Baltimore Elementary students have taken up residence this year). The Town of Frankford supplies water to those schools.