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Water Contamination Lawsuits Filed Against Delaware Poultry Processing Plant

More than 70 Delaware residents who live near the Mountaire Farms processing plant have filed a lawsuit alleging that the poultry factory has contaminated local water supplies. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed in Delaware Superior Court on June 28, naming Mountaire Farms and Mountaire Corporation as the defendants.

The Mountaire Farms facility in Millsboro, Delaware slaughters and processes about two million chickens per day, according to the court filing. Mountaire Farms has owned the facility since 2000.

The lawsuit indicates that the plant’s wastewater treatment procedures are inadequate, and that the plant’s releases of 2.4 million gallons of wastewater per day, which has resulted in the contamination of local aquifers and groundwater drinking sources with nitrate, phosphorous and fecal coliform.

In addition, the facility gets rid of some of its wastewater by spraying it onto fields, which plaintiffs say causes terrible odors, and eye, nose, skin and throat irritation for those living nearby.

The lawsuit notes that the facility was found to have contaminated the local aquifer just two years after Mountaire assumed control. In 2003, the facility entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control and clean up the nitrate pollution at the site. Two years later, the company tried to get the order terminated.

The company was found in violation again in 2019 due to nitrate concentrations detected in monitoring wells that exceeded those allowed by the operating permit. Despite a number of wastewater treatment upgrades, the facility continued to violate its operating permit, including a failure to submit a Corrective Action Plan, resulting in additional violations in November 2017.

Data from April 2017 indicated that the facility’s wastewater effluent had total nitrogen levels as high as 76.75 mg/mL. It’s permit only allows concentrations of 15.6. The lawsuit indicates the facility has repeatedly violated its permissible levels of biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, fecal coliform and total chlorine residuals, as well as other violations, and failures to notify federal officials of noncompliance.

High levels of nitrates in drinking water can cause methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome” in infants. It has also been linked to congenital malformations, thyroid malformation, gastrointestinal problems, heart disorders and inflammatory reactions. Fecal coliform can cause illness and disease, resulting in gastrointestinal injuries, diarrhea and infections.

Plaintiffs say these high nitrate levels and other contaminants have been detected in their drinking water wells. They have experienced illnesses, foul odors, loss of enjoyment of their property and loss of property value, the lawsuit indicates.

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