Chicken Filth Spurs Mountaire Lawsuit Threat by Delaware Residents

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By Leslie A. Pappas

Nearly 50 rural Delaware residents say they’ll sue a local Mountaire chicken-processing plant to force it to stop polluting their drinking water with nitrogen from chicken waste.

The threatened lawsuit targets Mountaire Corp. of Little Rock, Ark., and Mountaire Farms Inc. of Millsboro, Del., and involves the company’s poultry processing plant near Millsboro in Sussex County.

At issue is the plant’s wastewater treatment, storage, and spray irrigation on 928 acres of farmland near the plant. The plant has and continues to apply wastewater to 13 fields “in amounts that exceed agronomic rates,” according to the group’s notice of intent to sue, dated March 27 and sent to the company, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

The 47 plaintiffs, local residents who all live within a half mile downstream from fields where the plant stores and sprays wastewater, allege that excessive spraying on the fields has polluted their drinking water wells with nitrogen.

Some, but not all of the residents have been getting bottled water since 2002, when the EPA brought a Safe Drinking Water Act case against the company, Jessica Culpepper, a Public Justice attorney representing the plaintiffs, told Bloomberg Environment.

Millions of Chickens

Mountaire Farms is the country’s seventh-largest chicken producer, according to company’s website. The plant processes about 2 million chickens per week and operates for 16 hours per day, five days per week, and produces 2.4 million gallons of waste per day, according to the notice.

The company didn’t immediately respond March 28 to a phone call and two emails from Bloomberg Environment seeking comment.

The plaintiffs are represented by Public Justice, a Washington nonprofit; Nidel & Nace PLLC, a Washington firm; Jacobs & Crumplar PA of Wilmington, Del.; and Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based public interest group.

“We welcomed Mountaire thinking that they would be a good neighbor,” Gina Burton, one of the plaintiffs, said during a conference call with reporters March 28. For years, the company had given the family bottled water but it isn’t enough, she said.

“My family has suffered so many health problems,” she added.

Thomas Crumplar of Jacobs & Crumplar, the Delaware attorney on the case, said during the conference call that he has more than 80 clients who have suffered personal injuries, “ranging from upset stomachs to major birth defects” and plans to file for damages under state law if the company does not take action within 90 days.

The residents will sue if the company does not stop the excessive spraying within 90 days, Culpepper said.

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