The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is offering its opinion on how Mountaire Farms can mitigate pollution caused by numerous wastewater violations at its Millsboro processing facility.
Many of the Center’s recommendations would already be required of Mountaire under a consent decree the poultry processor entered into with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) back in June.
That agreement has yet to be approved by a judge, and the Center is calling for Mountaire to go further in its cleanup efforts than the consent decree would.
The decree would require Mountaire to remove twice as much nitrogen from the area’s groundwater as it put into the ground in excess of its permit limit. But Inland Bays Executive Chris Bason says the decree only accounts for pollution beginning July 2017, and the center would like to see cleanup efforts mitigate pollution dating back to 2009 when evidence shows Mountaire’s pollution first exceeded its permits.
“This appears to, from the data that we’ve seen, have gone on at least periodically since that time, and the request is that DNREC go back, account for that and require the facility to mitigate that,” said Bason.
Mountaire says it plans to invest more than $40 million into a new wastewater treatment plant it says will produce cleaner water than what is taken out of the ground. As part of that plan, the consent decree would require the company to relocate its production wells to areas of highest nitrate concentration in the groundwater.
Bason applauds this move but adds the decree does not require Mountaire to move its wells until after the new facility is built.
“This would take many years,” said Bason. “So, during that time the pollutants in the aquifer would be slowly leeching out into the river and into Swan Creek. What we recommend is the production wells be relocated as soon as possible so it intercepts the pollution in the groundwater.”
The Center for the Inland Bays recommendations also call for an evaluation of regulatory agencies who failed to prevent Mountaire from violating its permits, and for home-sellers in the area to disclose nitrate levels in the water prior to the sale of a home.
In a statement, Mountaire says there are many sources of excess nitrates found in Delaware’s inland bays. It calls the Center’s focus on Mountaire unfair but adds it is looking forward to working with the Center on these issues.
Mountaire Farms is currently being sued by Millsboro-area residents who allege wastewater Mountaire sprays onto nearby fields is contaminating groundwater with nitrates and endangering their health.