Hexavalent Chromium Found at Closed Vlasic Pickle Plant and Adjacent Residential Groundwater

Co-authored By:
Wolfgang von Baumgart

Independent chemical analysis studies reveal that hexavalent chromium has been found at the site of the recently closed Vlassic pickle plant in Millsboro DE and has leaked to adjacent residential areas at Possum Point on the Indian River Bay.

At a public hearing in Millsboro to discuss the viability of opening a new poultry processing plant on the closed Vlasic site, it was revealed through public documents published by concerned citizens from Protecting Our Indian River, that “Vlasic/Pinnacle Foods are walking away from contamination and now want to use public funds to clean up the contamination, including VOC’s, carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic contamination, including chromium. Bob Bowcock of Erin Brocovich’s team and Melissa Dutcher from Vititoe Law Group reviewed the site and stated, the levels of hexavalent chromium here are twice what they were at Hinkley, as portrayed in the movie, “Erin Brocovich,” stated the document.

Hexavalent chromium compounds are carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens and were found in the drinking water in the Southern California town of Hinkley, that was the location of the landmark lawsuit against PG&E. These pollutants are genotoxic compounds that cause cancer, miscarriages and deformities that in many cases will lead to death and they have been found at the closed Vlasic plant and the Possum Point residential area.

The opening of Allen Harim’s poultry processing plant has apparently been rubber-stamped by every nearly every state and local politician and according to comments at the public hearing, the citizens of the residential areas in Possum Point, the hearing was just a formality.
Why would our senators and representatives rubber-stamp a project such as this without first cleaning up this site known to be a state declared Brownfield? Independent studies and analysis have clearly shown that this is indeed a very dangerous site and the plans for the new processing plant should be put on “hold” while further competent research is completed.

The report is, that if the processing plant in opened, 700 South Koreans would take the first jobs and after one year would receive full citizenship. It’s a great deal for South Korea and a sour deal for Americans that live at or near the Plant in the surrounding residential areas, according to these concerned citizens and other informed sources.

In DNREC’s public presentation, acceptable deaths per 10,000 and 100,000 people were quoted. My question is: Why are any deaths acceptable due to DNREC and Vlasic’s apparent negligence. In my opinion, one death is far too grievous to permit when we have these facts at hand.

The highly charged controversy takes place in the context of a depressed economy and chemically stressed local environment, integrally linked to special interest Delaware state and local politics, as the plan is apparently on the fast track.
Governor Jack Markell in a press release dated 1 April, 2013 stated “We are pleased by this important expansion by Harim Group in Sussex County. This decision strengthens Harim’s commitment to Delaware, and it helps many Delawareans in Sussex County who want to work for this growing company.”

In addition to the Governor, the project is supported by US Senator Tom Carper, Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee, Delaware Economic Development Office Director Alan Levin, 41st District State Representative John Adkins, 20th District State Senator Gerald Hocker, (as well as other state legislators) the Sussex County Council, Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission, numerous local municipal officials and the Sussex County Association of Realtors.

It is interesting to note that Sussex County Planning and Zoning Commission President, Bob Wheatly, is the incoming Public Policy Chairman of the Sussex County Association of Realtors (that has purchased major ads in local newspapers in support of Allen Harim’s proposal).

The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Division of Watershed Stewardship, Site Investigation and Restoration Section (SIRS) currently operates a “Brownfield Marketplace”, as featured on its webpage:


The program is designed to actively promote various brownfield sites for commercial and industrial redevelopment. The Brownfields Development Program was signed into law in 2004.

The matter is complicated by an apparent lack of public information as the public had access to the Addendum documents only four days before the December 17th public hearing. Most notably, critical technical information in the form of the required BROWNFIELD INVESTIGATION REPORT PINNACLE FOODS GROUP, LLC 29984 PINNACLE WAY DAGSBORO, DE 19939 DE-1555 (11/20/2013) and the Phase I Environmental Site Assessment Report (3/11/2013) , prepared by BP-Environmental, Inc. was not downloadable on the DNREC/SIRS webpage.

The DNREC/SIRS presentation at the public hearing appeared to actively minimize citizens environmental concerns and called for no remedial action beyond area well monitoring and failed (over the span of the hearing) to mention the presence of Hexavalent Chromium (Cr 6+) in the context of total chromium levels.

In addition to Hexavalent Chromium: Arsenic, Aluminum, Mercury, Trichloroethlyene (TCE),other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semi-volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs) are present in site soils and groundwater. Other area environmental contamination is present in the form of elevated and unacceptable levels of acidity (from acetic acid), nitrates, phosphates, sulfates and Propylene Glycol.

Further information pertaining to the environmental and public health effects of the above listed substances can be obtained from the epa.gov , osha.gov and nrdc.org websites.

The official presentation did not give a clear picture of current site and vicinal conditions as it presented a rather shallow static two-dimensional approach , based on partial environmental analysis when a more dynamic three-dimensional approach was needed.

John Austin, a retired USEPA environmental chemist, currently working with the Inland Bays Foundation, has documented numerous deficiencies in the BP site survey and evaluation reports. An e-copy of his presentation is available at inlandbaysfoundation.org.
Todd M. Hurd PhD, a certified groundwater hydrological tracing specialist gave a detailed presentation stating that the plume of contamination has traveled offsite into adjacent groundwater.
Kathy Martin, PE submitted a detailed statement of public record further documenting inadequacies in the final brownfield investigation report.
The protectingourindianriver.com website further documents citizens’ legitimate environmental concerns.

In contrast, Allen Harim, LLC was represented by an attorney.
The decision to re-develop a contaminated industrial site is a complex and multidimensional problem with far-reaching economic, environmental and social ramifications and should be predicated upon a more transparent public process that is based upon dissemination of accurate and timely information.

Citizens are rightfully demanding thorough site and area remediation before renewed economic activity can begin. One possibility to rehabilitate the site lies in the natural ability of common Duckweed (lemmna minor) to absorb Nitrogen, Phosphorus and metal contaminants from wastewater and groundwater. It can then be processed into Bio-butanol as a clean and renewable energy source, thereby creating additional job opportunities.

In conclusion, the entire public process raises legitimate environmental and economic development concerns of public health, ecological impact, sustainability, public policy, conflict of interest and legal questions. In the present situation, environmental litigation is a distinct possibility in this matter, as similar judicial precedents have been set.

The issue is too complicated to be considered in the narrow classic “Left v. Right” / Environment v. Economy paradigm as affected citizens have raised valid scientific, environmental equity and political questions relevant to the State of Delaware and Sussex County’s relationship with and preferential treatment of special interests at protracted public expense. People are clearly demanding accurate answers and won’t be assuaged by politician’s promises of a ”state-of-the-art” operation when their long-term health and well-being, quality-of-life, future and that of their children and grandchildren have been compromised. Property rights are not in question here – just industry’s imaginary “right” to pollute.

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