State officials discussed contaminants, including nitrates and components of gasoline, found in Ellendale wells in 2009 and how DNREC and Department of Public Health investigations plan to proceed.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Division of Public Health held a workshop at the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Ellendale Tuesday night to discuss water quality concerns in the town.

Water studies began in 2009 at the Mt. Zion Church on the north side of Beach Highway, revealing that the church’s well contained elevated levels of the chemical components of gasoline, specifically methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), benzene, and 1, 2-dicholoroethane, said Robert Asreen, DNREC Site Investigation and Restoration Section project manager.

Two properties were identified as possible sources of contamination: the former Ellendale Market and former J&H Auto Salvage Yard. Wells at the two sites, located on the south side of Beach Highway, were also found to contain elevated levels of MTBE and benzene, Asreen said.

The church well was replaced in 2010 by the responsible party, the current owner of the property, Don D’Aquila of Laurel. The new well was sampled in April 2013 and no volatile organic compounds were detected, Asreen said.

Because the groundwater gradient is so flat in the area, Asreen said the possibility of cross-contamination is unlikely. Residential wells in the area tested in 2010 did not exceed safety levels, he said.

“We have a lot of non-detects around the area where we see contamination currently,” Asreen said. “I’m not saying it cannot spread. I’m saying we have not seen it spread yet.”

Because Ellendale residents previously voted down the option for a city-wide water distribution system, all private wells are monitored, tested and treated by the individual owners, as they are not regulated by DNREC or DPH.

“The water has been a problem for this area for a long time,” said former Ellendale Mayor Dolores Price. “We’ve been trying to get water for the town and community. Even though we were allocated money by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the town voted it down.  Citizens didn’t want another bill and didn’t want the change.”

DNREC continues to investigate the Mt. Zion Church and Ingram properties located on the north side of Beach Highway. In the fall, DNREC’s contractor EA Engineering will install groundwater monitoring wells and collecting soil samples. A report will be released following the investigation and a plan of remedial action, if needed, will be proposed for public comment in early 2014.

Funding for this investigation is provided by DNREC’s Hazardous Substance Cleanup Act Fund.

Samples obtained by the Division of Public Health when the town was considering a central water system in 2009 also found six out of 21 sampled wells to have elevated levels of nitrates, said Ed Hallock, Office of Drinking Water program administrator.

Nitrates typically do not omit a particular taste or odor and are of most health concern to infants, causing a condition known as “blue baby syndrome” and even death, Hallock said.

Nitrates are treatable through water softening systems, and Hallock encouraged residents to test wells for nitrates with complimentary water test kits.

For more information or to obtain a water test kit, contact the Office of Drinking Water at 43 South Dupont Highway or by calling (302) 741-8590.