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Mountaire to pay $205M in water contamination settlement

Courtesy of Mountaire Farms

A court settlement between Mountaire Farms and residents of Millsboro over drinking water contamination was finalized Monday.

A Delaware Superior Court judge approved the $65 million payout from Mountaire to residents near the chicken processor’s wastewater treatment facility in Millsboro. 

The class action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 600 residents alleges a 2017 failure at the facility contaminated area drinking water with nitrates causing a list of health issues and devaluing nearby property. Mountaire also settled with a separate group of residents in February of last year.

The most recent settlement began with Millsboro resident Gary Cuppels, who after being hospitalized with gastrointestinal issues, came home to find free bottled water from Mountaire on his porch with instructions to not drink his tap water. Cuppels says he is pleased with the resulting court settlement.

“I think it was probably the best outcome possible,” he said. “There’s no question about that, but the impact on me as well as my wife continues on.”    

A federal court separately approved $140 million in required upgrades to Mountaire’s wastewater system as part of the settlement. Permits for the upgrades were approved by The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) in January.

Lawyer for the plaintiffs, Philip Federico, says the upgrades will bring the wastewater Mountaire sprays onto nearby fields down to well below the federal 10 milligrams per liter limit on nitrogen. He says tests of more than 200 area drinking wells shortly after the failure at the facility found nitrogen levels well above that limit. 

“Mountaire on average was discharging between 20 and 100 milligrams per liter,” said Federico. “As much as three times the federal standard we found in our clients well. It’s very disturbing.”  

In a statement, Mountaire denies causing damage to the plaintiffs. Its President Phillip Pylar says the chicken processor is moving ahead with its new wastewater treatment facility.

“We’re ready to put this chapter behind us and forge a new relationship with our neighbors moving forward,” Pylar said in the statement.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say they are expecting between 3,000 and 4,000 claims on the lawsuit. They say the funds will be allocated based on damage assessment by former Maryland Judge Irma Raker.

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