New legislation paving way for safer drinking water in Delaware

DELAWARE – New legislation could ensure safer drinking water for Delawareans. House Bill 8 was signed into law by Governor John Carney Wednesday afternoon. “In Delaware, we really value clean drinking water, clean water statewide,” said bill sponsor Representative Debra Heffernan. “We worked on this bill for a couple of years so that DPH and DNREC could be ready to go to start the process.”

Controlling Contamination

The bill sets a cap on the acceptable level of PFOs or PFOAs in drinking water. “They’re what we call a forever chemical because it doesn’t break down in the environment. Delaware, like many other states, has widespread contamination of our water and drinking water,” said Rep. Heffernan.

The Delaware Division of Public Health and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control are now charged with regulating those levels. “This will give us an enforceable limit so that our groundwater and our drinking water is clean for our citizens of Delaware,” said Rep. Heffernan.

Environmental Health Director for the Delaware DPH Jamie Mack tells 47 ABC those regulations will be based on conversations with community stakeholders. That way, the agency can figure out what level caps are the best fit for Delaware.

Mack adds they will likely look to existing hazard action level guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency as a starting point. “That’s going to begin with some public meetings and draft regulations, probably within the net 60 to 90 days. At that point, we’ll set a standard in the draft regulation, and use that to open a conversation with the community,” said Mack.

Lawmakers say another important part of the legislation was to make sure that taxpayers weren’t left picking up the tab on testing and prevention efforts. “There is a lot of money in Delaware that’s gone into clean water, like HB200,” said Rep. Heffernan. “There’s a pilot program to help municipalities and individuals with wells and small water systems to help them to assess the quality of their drinking water.”

Mack adds that working with utility providers will also help keep those costs down. “We’re also here to protect the utilities as they put in place the new technology to address issues, and we continue to support them so that they then don’t have to pass along the burden of cost to the users,” he said.

Preventing Health Hazards

The chemicals can be found pretty much anywhere, from non-stick coatings on cookware to firefighting chemicals. “At airports and things like that, in certain fires they may not want to use water for different reasons. They’ll use this foam, and it contains a lot of PFOAs, which then runs off into the environment and we can be exposed to it that way,” said Mack.

Mack says research is still being done on the effect the chemicals can have on people. But, there is data that suggests they can cause health problems. “We are still learning a lot about the chemicals, because this is a very large group of chemicals. But, the concerns right now are the effects on the liver and kidneys,” he said. “When we think about pregnancy and some of that vulnerability, we’re also concerned about blood pressure or preeclampsia for pregnant women, as well as the potential for low birth weight.”

Other states across the nation have similar legislation, but they’re not all the same. “If you look at those levels across the country, you’ll see a wide variety of numbers, from things as low as, I think, 12 in New Jersey up to a couple of hundred in some Midwest states,” said Mack.

Safer Water, Brighter Future

Rep. Heffernan says she’s proud of the progress this legislation marks for the first state. She adds she’s also hopeful for what it could mean for the future of Delaware’s health. “I think it really sets Delaware up to be at the forefront of clean up of PFOAs in our drinking water,” she said.

Categories: Delaware, Health, Local News, Local Politics