Opinion: Delawareans face a public health crisis

Don Allan Courtesy of Don Allan
Don Allan makes the case that Delawareans face a public health crisis.

Delawareans face a public health crisis. Thousands of Delawareans cannot access something many of us take for granted daily — clean drinking water.

As one of many examples, in February, Blades residents were told not to use tap water for drinking or cooking, after perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) were detected in the water supply. This was the first time Blades’ water supply had been tested for PFCs, so no one knows how long residents’ water had been contaminated. PFCs can cause cancer and developmental issues for fetuses and infants, and adversely affect body organs and function. Blades is far from the only Delaware town with water quality issues.

Increasingly, Delaware water supplies are at risk of contamination, primarily from run-off pollution. Inadequate funding and capacity for government inspections and action have compounded the crisis. Companies contaminating water often conduct their own inspections, companies continually violating laws and consent orders regarding permissible levels of dangerous pollutants in water supplies. This problem impacts Sussex County residents particularly, because of the county’s many farms. Often, companies spray wastewater almost at will over farm fields.

Numerous actions, in combination, can set us in the right direction to tame this crisis. We need a “clean water bill” funding projects improving water and waterways. Delaware homes being leased or sold should include a water test conducted no more than one year prior to sale or lease. We must establish public water districts in areas experiencing significant groundwater contamination and close to established public water systems. We should involve the University of Delaware in researching agricultural best practices for our area, like peak fertilization times, proper crops for up-cycling nitrates and waste management.

We must fund and staff state agencies as necessary to execute vital oversight and enforcement of regulations protecting water quality. We should increase grants to area farmers, to improve and encourage environmentally responsible agriculture. We need to bolster Delaware’s repeat pollutant offender program, ensuring consequences for chronic groundwater polluters. Finally, we must require that all septic and similar waste be run through a modern municipal-style sewage treatment facility, rather than being treated and sprayed on area fields.

We need funding to address Delaware’s clean drinking water public health crisis, and reasonable ways exist for such funding. First, we must increase the price of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, the fees for which have not increased since 1991. Second, again, we need a “clean water bill” similar to House Bill 270, introduced during the last legislative session but tabled in committee, which would have instituted a new Clean Water Surcharge.

Third, we must institute additional personal income tax (PIT) brackets for wealthier Delawareans. Currently, Delaware has just six PIT brackets, ranging from 2.2% to 6.6%, based on annual income. The top tax bracket is simply $60,000 and above. In other words, Delawareans pay a 6.6% tax rate regardless of if they make $60,000, $100,00, $500,000, or $10,000,000 per year.

First, that set-up is unfair to hardworking middle-class Delawareans. Second, it is inconsistent with surrounding states. Third, we are missing out on a significant source of reliable, long-term income for the State — not only because additional PIT brackets for wealthier Delawareans would be permanent, but because even in times of economic downturn, wealthier individuals recover much more quickly than middle-class individuals, guaranteeing steady State revenue even during less favorable economic times.

Delawareans deserve clean water. Delawareans deserve fair PIT brackets. And Delawareans deserve legislators in Dover who will fight for them on these and many other important fronts.

Don Allan is a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in the 36th District, which straddles Milton and Milford.

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