Too much aluminum at Downstate beaches

Delaware State News (Dover, DE) - Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Author: William J. Winkler, Sr.

I am asking that a public hearing be held before any consideration of renewal of the Barcroft Co.'s NPDES discharge permit.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control says it has not heard of the " Delaware coastal current ," which carries Delaware Bay water right down the Atlantic Coast to the recreational beaches. Richard Garvine, Ph.D., physical oceanographer, University of Delaware , has authored or co-authored several research papers about the " Delaware coastal current ," which include:

"Subtidal Frequency Estuary-Shelf Interaction: Observations Near Delaware Bay," 1991 by Richard W. Garvine

"Buoyancy and Wind Forcing of a Coastal Current ," 1993 by Andreas Munchow and Richard W. Garvine

"Dynamical Properties of a Buoyancy-Driven Coastal Current ," 1993 by Andreas Munchow and Richard W. Garvine

"Frontal Observations of the Delaware Coastal Current Source Region," 1994 by Todd M. Sanders and Richard W. Garvine

"Transport and Recruitment of Blue Crab Larvae: a Model with Advection and Mortality," 1995 by R.W. Garvine, C.E. Epifanio, C.C. Epifanio and K.C. Wong

"Remote Sensing of Ocean Salinity: Results from the Delaware Coastal Current Experiment," 1997 by D.M. Le Vine and M. Kao (Goddard Space Flight Center, Lab for Hydrospheric Processes, Greenbelt, Md), R.W. Garvine and T. Sanders

"Fresh Water Delivery to the Continental Shelf and Subsequent Mixing: An Observational Study," 2001 by Todd M. Sanders and Richard W. Garvine

In an e-mail summary from Dr. Garvine about the Delaware coastal current , he states, in part: "The trapping of Delaware Bay water against the Delmarva coast as it progresses southward imposes potential water quality problems for the beaches and coastal communities there. The water is not pure ocean water from the continental shelf, but instead a mixture of Delaware Bay and shelf water."

During August 2000, swimmers from Cape Henlopen to Fenwick Island were experiencing a "burning sensation" on their skin when they were in the water. I have documented several people who also had a severe burning of the eyes. Two people that I have documented had facial muscle go numb or cramp up. I personally experienced three very severe muscle spasms. There was something in the water in August 2000. We know there were brevetoxins from the red tide (Chattonella verruculosa), but in talking to Dr. Lori Fleming, University of Miami School of Medicine, who has worked with brevetoxins for about 20 years, he said that these symptoms of burning sensation of the skin, eyes burning or muscle cramping are not symptoms of brevetoxin interaction. There were also several cases of people I talked to and documented with severe nausea, which they attributed to inadvertently swallowing the water while swimming or bodysurfing.

In talking to Dr. Don Anderson of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in August 2000 about the symptoms we were having here from swimming in the Atlantic, he said it reminds him of an incident in Brazil. Twenty years ago, oceanographers thought they were dealing with a red tide when, in reality, it turned out to be a chemical spill!

On Aug. 13, 2000, Sergio Huerta, M.D., of DNREC sampled the water at Bethany Beach and at Sea Colony. He sent in these water samples to be tested for chemicals. Did Dr. Huerta suspect a chemical spill? Note on the report the level of aluminum is 2,015 ug/L at Bethany and 2,066 ug/L at Sea Colony. Normal levels found in ocean water are 10ug/L.

Months of research of my own time went into trying to find out where the excessive aluminum came from. The closest discharge, other than the South Coastal Sewage outfall, whose effluent, according to Jack Pingree of DNREC, is picked up by the Labrador Current and taken away from the coastline, is the Barcroft Co.'s discharge at the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen. In speaking with Kim Brittingham at Barcroft, I asked what the composition of the aluminum discharge was. He said most likely, aluminum hydroxide. In a grab sample taken by DNREC in February 2001, the aluminum levels were around 4,700 ug/L at the discharge site.

Knowing that the Delaware Coastal Current picks up the water in this area and takes it out off Cape Henlopen and right down the coast (as per Dr. Garvine's statement and reports), that shows that the Aug. 13, 2000, sample (if aluminum levels were that of February 2001 at the point of discharge) taken in Bethany Beach at 2,015 ug/L of aluminum would be 43 percent of total discharge and 2,066 ug/L would be 44 percent of total discharge levels of aluminum hydroxide.

Per Romero Kuyvenhoven, a banner airplane pilot who has been flying the Bethany Beach area for 15 years, I also have it in my notes with date and time what sometimes looks like a river of reddish water coming all the way from Cape Henlopen, about 500 feet off the beach, heading south. Out of the "river," there are fingers that move into the beach area, as if from currents or winds, he said.

I called the J.T. Baker Chemical Co. and asked them what effects aluminum hydroxide would have on people. The person referred me to their Web site The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) shows a warning: causes irritation to eyes and respiratory tract.

In searching the EPA Web site, home.htm for effects that aluminum chloride might have on saltwater organisms, I found:

A polychaete worm, Capitella capitata, dies at levels of around 400 ug/L after a seven-day exposure.

A polychaete worm, Ctenodrilus serratus, dies at a level of 97ug/L after 96 hours of exposure.

An American or Virginia oyster, Crassostrea virginica, dies at levels of 7,500 ug/L after 48 hours of exposure. (Dr. Maxted, formerly of DNREC, has reports that show different chemicals, if not lethal, do cause reduction in growth and fecundity).

Other marine organisms are affected, including the Atlantic Salmon, documented in the ecotox Web site.

This comment has been only in reference to one chemical and/or chemical compound. I am also concerned about the high levels of magnesium recorded in the Aug. 13, 2000, water sample report and other elements, such as but not to be restricted to, thallium, arsenic, silver and lead.

I believe that if, in fact, Barcroft's discharge is reaching the recreational beaches, Barcroft can do a better job of cleaning up their discharge to a more acceptable level that is not harmful to the marine organisms or people.

EDITOR'S NOTE: William J. Winkler, Sr. owns and operates TreasureQuest Shoppe in Ocean View, Delaware and can be reached at


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