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Some Millsboro residents dissatisfied with drinking water contamination response

Courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mountaire Farms is working with the state to offer Millsboro residents a solution for their contaminated wells, but some residents say they feel the solution isn't adequate enough.

Residents near Mountaire Farms’ Millsboro plant received waivers Thursday asking them to sign off on a solution for their contaminated drinking water.

Bob Phillips lives less than a half a mile from the fields where Mountaire sprayed contaminated wastewater. The Jersey Rd. resident was offered a water softener system the state says would provide more drinkable water. The system would discharge regenerated wastewater into his septic system.

But Phillips says he’s worried about the consequences and cost if it doesn’t work, and says he won’t take it.

"What they’re offering is not an answer to the problem. Our property values — it’s gotten out — it’s in the tank now," Phillips said.

The waiver says he as the homeowner would agree to all costs associated with the system, even if something goes wrong.

"It's going to be my responsibility," Phillips said. "Naturally, I'm not signing the waiver."

Phillips’ well has nitrates above 26 milligrams per liter. Nitrates over 10 milligrams per liter is considered unsafe to drink.

He says he wants a deeper well, or to be hooked up to the town’s water system.

Besides the solution, Phillips said he's dissatisfied with the communication. A week ago, he came home to two cases of water with a note from Sharp Water on his doorstep, that said they were delivering the water on behalf of Mountaire.

On Monday, he and his family received three five-gallon jugs and a water cooler, but heard nothing from the company. They also received a letter detailing the water softner system and waiver he would need to sign, but there was no waiver attached.

"I never had a problem in 20 years of living here, and boom all of a sudden," he said. "They're not talking to people, now they are."

The state's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Division of Public Health's Office of Drinking Water have tested 34 private wells near Mountaire's Millsboro plant, said Michael Globetti, a spokesman for DNREC. Of those 34, 21 have nitrates that are higher than the drinking water standard.

Maria Payan, a consultant with the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project has met with 15 of those families, and says there's a consensus among them.

"They're terrified," Payan said.

Some are even pointing to health problems in themselves, their children, their neighbors and even their pets, and are wondering if they have anything to do with the water they've been drinking. Phillips says his cat, Pita, has had digestive problems for two years.

According to the Notice of Violation DNREC issued Mountaire in November, Mountaire's Total Nitrogen levels were as high as 641 mg/L on Sept. 26, 2017. The Division of Public Health said high nitrates can lower the levels of oxygen in the blood.

"If your child is born with a defect, obviously it can come from many different things," Payan said. "When you start having neighbors on the same street that are all having the same weird problems...there's something going on there."

Mountaire told Delaware Public Media on Monday it is working to fix problems with its wastewater treatment system. They'll spend $30-$35,000 on fixes to the current system and future upgrades. The company also fired wastewater employees who were involved in the system's upset.

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