A new lawsuit has been filed against Mountaire Farms concerning the poultry company’s wastewater and sludge contamination issues around its complex in Millsboro, Delaware, and included in that lawsuit is a wrongful death allegation.
The latest suit was filed by the law firm Nidel and Nase on behalf of numerous Millsboro area residents who have accused Mountaire of contaminating groundwater with nitrates, endangering the health of those in the area, and devaluing properties. Nidel and Nase’s suit follows an earlier and similar class-action lawsuit filed several weeks ago.
"It appears that the tactics by these plaintiffs groups is to grossly exaggerate the contributions from Mountaire regarding nitrate levels across Sussex County. Historically, elevated levels of nitrates is a very common widespread environmental condition due to decades of agricultural use, way before the arrival of Mountaire and certainly did not occur just in the past 18 years, much less the past eight months," the company said in a statement, adding that it will not comment further except for saying it has made the commitment to stay in Delaware, at a potential cost of $60 million, and will defend itself vigorously against the lawsuits.
Wrongful death allegation
Included in the latest lawsuit is a wrongful death allegation. According to a court document, Kiwanis Burton died after suffering a severe asthma attack while at home and being subjected to odors and air pollution caused by Mountaire Farms.
The deceased’s mother, Gina Burton, is seeking all damages allowable by law, including deprivation of the expectation of pecuniary benefits to her that would have resulted from Kiwanis’ continued life, loss of contributions for support, loss of family and household services, reasonable funeral expenses, and past, present and future mental anguish and pain and suffering.
History of wastewater concerns and Millsboro facility
Both lawsuits follow a consent decree reached between Mountaire Farms and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). That consent decree addressed wastewater-related permit violations at Mountaire’s poultry processing operations in Millsboro. As part of the decree, which was submitted for approval in Delaware Superior Court, requires Mountaire to pay a civil penalty of $600,000 and reimburse DNREC $25,000 for expenses incurred during its investigation, but that penalty could be reduced ot $420,000 under the decree if Mountaire offered an alternative water supply to nearby residents.
Mountaire Farms has previously stated that it has been working hard to correct the problems. The company said employees who were responsible for monitoring the wastewater system allowed solids to build up in the wastewater and allowed water to be released without proper levels of oxygen in the system. Those workers have since been dismissed from the company.
Mountaire in November 2017 also stated that it was committed to a two-phase plan to improve the situation. One phase involved increasing oxygen levels, increasing biosolid removals and increasing its water analysis at the Millsboro facility. The second phase involves a complete upgrade of the wastewater treatment system in Millsboro.