Southern Delaware chicken plant spilled up to 1 million gallons of wastewater: State

Source:, February 13, 2019
By: Maddy Lauria

Mountaire Farms has been ordered to clean up to 1 million gallons of partially treated wastewater that spilled into the ground at its chicken plant near Millsboro, state officials said on Wednesday.

The spill was discovered about 5 a.m. on Wednesday and was caused “by mechanical failure of a wastewater system component,” according to a press release issued by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control nearly 12 hours after the release.

State environmental officials said the leak was contained on Mountaire’s property and did not reach nearby Swan Creek.

“DNREC has directed Mountaire Farms to take all appropriate steps to mitigate this release and minimize any adverse impacts to the environment,” DNREC said in the release. Cleanup efforts are underway, as is an investigation by state regulators, according to the agency.

DNREC estimated between 750,000 and 1 million gallons were released, as reported to the state by Mountaire on Wednesday. The agency did not say how long the “partially treated” wastewater had been leaking.

“The portion of our wastewater system that caused the release just went into operation in late January, and is designed to reduce nutrient levels in the wastewater that is sprayed on the land where the release occurred,” Mountaire spokeswoman Cathy Bassett said in an email. “There is absolutely no risk to our employees, to the public, or to the environment as a result of this release. Cleanup should be completed by this evening and the recycling operation will resume tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Mountaire is facing several lawsuits related to violations of its state-issued waste disposal permits. Two separate law firms are pursuing state- and federal-level cases against the company, alleging that violations found by state officials could have harmed the health and drinking water quality of neighbors.

“This is why my clients do not trust Mountaire or DNREC to keep Mountaire’s plant safe,” said attorney Thomas Crumplar, who is representing dozens of neighbors.

Mountaire’s processing plant on the outskirts of Millsboro off Route 24 processes nearly 2 million chickens every week, among other poultry-related operations. It disposes of sludge and treated wastewater from those processes on hundreds of acres of nearby farm fields.

In 2017, state environmental regulators issued a notice that the company had violated those permits multiple times, mainly in the summer of 2017 but as far back as 2015.

Violations included high levels of nutrients and bacteria in wastewater, as well as circumventing critical steps in the treatment process, as previously reported by The News Journal.

In June 2018, DNREC announced it had reached a consent order that would resolve those violations and its legal action against the company. That order includes up to $625,000 in fines, or up to $420,000 in fines if the company also provides nearby residents access to a safe drinking water supply.

Private attorneys have asked to intervene in that agreement, arguing that the consent decree is “woefully inadequate” in addressing neighbors’ and environmental concerns.

Mountaire officials have said the company plans to spend about $35 million on a new treatment plant to avoid future violations.

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