Delaware is receiving more than $3 million in grants and loans to eliminate water contamination in the downstate town of Selbyville.
In 2009, Selbyville residents noticed their water had an unusual taste and odor.
After the town and state received numerous complaints, the water tested positive for MTBE, a chemical found in gasoline that’s added to reduce smog and pollution.
Seven years later, Delaware is receiving more than $3.3 million from federal and local sources to eliminate the water contamination with the construction of a new water treatment plant.
“Their town leadership is really committed to giving them the safest drinking water, and investing in developing partnerships, and implementing and building a brand new water treatment plant that is going to help them in the short-term to help this MTBE issue, but also in the long-term they will have a system that will take them into the future,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of Delaware’s Division of Public Health.
She said the chemical poses little human health risk and the water still complies with Environmental Protection Agency standards.
“The amounts need to be very high to cause any potential human health issues, but some of the greater concerns for the residents were the taste and odor of the MTBE,” Rattay said.
The investigation took several years, but the source of the contamination remains inconclusive. The town of Selbyville originally installed wells in an attempt to alleviate the problem, but the wells were unsuccessful.
Public Health, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the town decided building a new water treatment plant was more feasible than upgrading Selbyville’s current one, which was built in 1934, which wouldn’t be capable of removing the contamination.
“The additive is used to decrease smog, and it very easily gets into ground water systems and it’s very difficult to remove from ground water systems, so essentially you have to treat it when it comes out of the ground,” said Bill McGowan, state director for U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
Now the area is getting more than $3.3 million from state and federal sources, thanks to partnerships with the Division of Public Health, DNREC, the USDA and EPA, to build a new water treatment plan.
“Taxpayers of Selbyville won’t see any increase in taxes from the cost associated with constructing this, and they should take comfort in knowing well into the future once this plant is constructed they will have safe drinking water,” said David Small, Secretary of DNREC.
“This will allow the water to be treated with a state of the art treatment system and it will give the town more flexibility as it grows into the future and if it decides to provide additional drinking water to other areas it will be able to do so in a more efficient way.”
Construction of the new water treatment plant is underway, and is expected to be complete in May.
“Every person is entitled to clean, safe drinking water,” McGowan said. “This was a long time coming, but ultimately you have a real resolution of a significant issue for the citizens of Selbyville.”