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Mountaire Farms receives second lawsuit threat

Courtesy of Mountaire Farms

Mountaire Farms may soon face multiple lawsuits over wastewater violations, as another law firm says it is preparing to take them to court.

Delaware law firm Baird Mandalas Brockstedt LLC filed a notice of intent to sue Mountaire on Wednesday. The notice claims Mountaire has contaminated residential wells near its Millsboro plant – putting residents’ health at risk.

The lawyers also argue Mountaire has violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which are guidelines to manage nonhazardous solid waste, according to the EPA.

Baird Mandalas Brockstedt is representing over 600 residents and property owners.

Mountaire has told residents that they don’t believe a wastewater treatment upset that happened in summer 2017 has anything to do with high nitrates in residential wells. They’ve said contamination has been present in Sussex County groundwater for decades.

Attorney Chase Brockstedt says he believes that is a misleading statement.

“Sussex County is not what’s relevant. What’s relevant is the area that’s within a couple of miles within the Mountaire facility, its sprayfields and the crop lands and the forest where they haphazardly spray their sludge,” Brockstedt said.

Brockstedt’s firm obtained data from monitoring wells and private testing which shows nitrate levels have hovered at a very low rate between 4-6 parts per million historically. The safe drinking water standard is 10 parts per million, which Mountaire’s treated wastewater exceeded, according to Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s 2017 notice of violation.

Brockstedt says the nitrates were at this level when Mountaire moved to the Millsboro area in 2002.

“So their operation has to be cleaner and better. They have to make sure when they’re doing spray irrigation, they’re doing it in such a way where they’re not going to increase the level of contaminants and level of nitrates in the soil,” he said.

But nitrates have increased with their wastewater operation, and so has contamination in the area, creating a multifaceted issue, Brockstedt said, ranging from residents who are extremely sick from contaminated water, to residents who are concerned about declining property values.

“I can’t tell you how many kitchen tables I’ve sat at or family room couches that I’ve sat on and talked to these folks about how they have just been really harmed by what’s going on,” Brockstedt said.

Brockstedt says by filing the notice, he and his clients seek to open a dialogue with Mountaire and the state, and help find a solution to the problem. Additionally, a notice of intent to sue that was filed by Delaware law firm Jacobs & Crumplar, nonprofit Food & Water Watch, Public Justice and dozens of Millsboro-area residents in March has nearly 50 days until it runs out.

Brockstedt said his firm has reached out to Mountaire, but the company has not responded. Once the 90-day notice runs out, they plan to take the poultry company to court.

Mountaire has issued a statement acknowledging receiving the two notices. The poultry company says it continues to work with state and local officials to improve operations.

The company added it maintains the belief that its wastewater treatment system problems from last summer did not significantly contribute to high nitrates in residential wells.

“As a matter of fact, 20% of the drinking water wells in Sussex County have tested above the drinking water standard for years,” Mountaire said. “This condition has existed for decades – even before our arrival – not just within the past six months.”

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