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Year-End Update 2019

President’s Message – Jay Martin

As an organic farmer, I’m committed to enhancing the health of soils to grow better crops without pesticides, ultimately leading to improved water quality. As Dr. Buz Kloots, a researcher in soil regeneration, puts it: "If living soils can heal themselves, water quality will take care of itself."

What we put on the land directly affects our food and our water. Using farmland for the disposal of waste, including human sewage sludge, has the potential for serious negative consequences.

Recently, material derived from poultry processing waste is also being disposed of under the label “soil amendment.” Not only does this product have an unbelievably horrible smell, but it is not routinely analyzed either for nutrient content or for contaminants.

A major producer of this material, Valley Proteins of Linkwood, also discharges large quantities of high-nutrient wastewater into the Transquaking River, a tributary of Fishing Bay. This river consistently receives the lowest grades in the water quality monitoring of the Nanticoke River system, which includes Fishing Bay. How to maintain a viable poultry industry while not sacrificing the health of our land and water is a major challenge that has not been addressed adequately. We need to better understand both the scope of the problem and the ways in which it can be solved!

Health of the River is a key focus of this Annual Report. Please see below for more about Valley Proteins, plastic pollution solutions, toxic contamination in Blades, Delaware, and overall River and Bay health assessments.

The Friends are committed to working on real solutions to the challenges facing our river, and we need your support! Please see our updated website for ways you can help, and be looking for our membership renewal notice coming soon.



Upper Nanticoke River Town of Blades a Superfund Site?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are present in drinking water throughout the U.S. These chemicals may increase the risk of cancer and other health effects, and they are very persistent, remaining in the environment indefinitely.

In February 2018, the Delaware Departments of Public Health and of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) notified the Town of Blades that all 3 of its municipal drinking water wells were contaminated with PFAS. This contamination was investigated by DNREC and the EPA because there was a history of related manufacturing operations in the area. The wells exceeded the national health advisory for combined PFOS/PFOA of 70 parts per trillion (ppt). The Blades wells’ levels ranged from 96.2/ppt to 187.1/ppt.

The source of contamination is still being investigated, but the Peninsula Plating (out of business) and Procino Plating (still in business) facilities are under strong suspicion. Procino Plating has been cited several times for violations of hazardous waste management and was sentenced to five years’ probation for violating the Clean Water Act.

The EPA has found heavy metal and PFAS contamination in 17 of 21 wells on the property of Procino Plating and in three wells on Peninsula Plating property.

The EPA has proposed adding Blades to its National Priorities (Superfund) sites list of the most contaminated sites in the country, because its groundwater contains both industrial metals and PFAS. This listing would make Federal funds available for cleanup. The Town has also installed carbon filtration within its municipal water treatment plant to remove the contaminants, and the water has been determined to be safe to drink at this point. Sampling in the Nanticoke River showed contamination by PFAS at one site, on Morgan Branch Creek, and by heavy metals, including arsenic, cyanide, and hexavalent chromium, in a number of surface water samples.

What’s that awful smell? It’s offal!

The Delmarva poultry industry is a key component of our regional economy, and the Friends of the Nanticoke River have long supported this industry as a part of our rural/agricultural way of life. However, there are undeniable challenges for large-scale animal production in maintaining water quality and soil health.

A necessary by-product of poultry processing is offal – waste material, including intestines, feathers, etc. This material is “rendered” into components of pet food, but in this process, wastewater high in nutrients is produced.

A major rendering facility, Valley Proteins, located on the Transquaking River, has had an application for increased wastewater discharge pending with the MD Department of the Environment (MDE) for over a decade. In the meantime, it has increased its discharges and continues to be a major source of pollution to the waterway. MDE is now requiring Valley Proteins to take concrete steps to reduce nutrients in their effluent.

The plant also produces a slurry (DAF) that is trucked to farm fields and added as a soil amendment. This practice generates an odor that persists for several days and is reported to cause headaches, nausea, and eye irritation.

A 3 million gallon storage tank for this material is being constructed near Rewastico Creek in Hebron, which poses a risk to that Nanticoke tributary of overflow and spills. The Friends, as do many others, opposes the use of DAF as a direct soil amendment, and we are supporting development of alternative treatment to produce a more environmentally benign product. The process of anaerobic digestion has the capability to treat DAF to remove odor, pathogens, and nutrients, all while generating energy. It produces a soil amendment that is rich in organic matter and a far better product for application to farm fields. We are working with partners to facilitate the use of this process to treat poultry waste on the shore. We also support restricting future discharges of excess nutrients into the Transquaking River.

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