Mountaire providing bottled water to Millsboro residences with wells with high nitrate levels

MILLSBORO – Mountaire Farms is providing bottled water to affected residences near its Millsboro poultry processing facility in the wake of high nitrate levels in private wells.

Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is working with the Delaware Division of Public Health to sample water from wells at private residences in the vicinity of Mountaire’s SR 24 processing plant. That processing facility was recently cited by DNREC for wastewater/spray irrigation violations involving excessive levels of nitrates, according to DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti.

Mountaire Farms’ Millsboro poultry processing facility.

Water in several recently-sampled wells was found to contain nitrates that exceeded the national drinking water standard of 10 milligrams per liter (10mg/L), according to DNREC.

After the wells at several residences in an area neighboring the plant and its spray irrigation fields returned high levels of nitrates in their drinking water, Mountaire at DNREC’s recommendation on Thursday began providing bottled water to affected residences.

Mountaire also agreed to provide bottled water and possibly other water treatment to other areas of concern surrounding the plant that have the potential to be impacted by nitrate contamination. A number of residences nearer the plant already are receiving bottled water from the company, Mr. Globetti said.

DNREC also is continuing to work with the Division of Public Health’s Office of Drinking Water to expand sampling of private wells at residences that may be affected by nitrates from the Mountaire plant’s wastewater discharge.

DNREC’s Groundwater Discharges Section in early September began working with Mountaire Farms to address concerns about elevated nitrogen concentrations at the spray irrigation facility as part of Mountaire’s ongoing permit renewal process.

On Sept. 6, 2017, Mountaire contacted DNREC to report acute and significant permit exceedances at the facility, including high levels of total nitrogen, very high levels of fecal coliform, total suspended solids, and biological oxygen demand based on laboratory analyses of routine samples taken on Aug. 30 and 31.

DNREC in September directed Mountaire to take immediate actions as necessary to minimize the potential for impacts to public health and the environment and to bring the facility back into compliance.

These actions included substantially reducing the amount of acreage being used for spray irrigation, limiting the conditions under which spray irrigation could occur and collecting more frequent samples of Mountaire’s effluent.

On Sept. 15, DNREC submitted a letter to Mountaire that formalized and expanded upon the previous verbal directive to the Millsboro facility. DNREC also began independently collecting and analyzing samples of the treated effluent.

Additionally, DNREC initiated dialog with Mountaire and is continuing to work with the company on developing and implementing immediate and long-term corrective actions to bring the Millsboro facility’s treated effluent into compliance with permit limitations.

Long-term corrective action includes the company’s plans for extensive upgrade of its wastewater treatment system.

Earlier this fall, Mountaire voluntarily withdrew its application for a Coastal Zone Act permit for extensive expansion of its Millsboro processing plant.

“We are making this withdrawal at this time due to a recent upset condition in the processing plant’s wastewater treatment facility, which upset condition will preclude reaching the post-expansion effluent levels forecast in the application until system upgrades are in place,” Mountaire spokesman Michael W. Tirrell stated in an Oct. 1, 2017 letter to DNREC. “Mountaire is acting diligently to implement interim corrective measures, as well as to develop long term system improvements that we anticipate will bring our effluent levels in line with what was anticipated when the application was filed.”

Mountaire fully intends to re-file the application and pursue expansion of the processing plant “once we are satisfied with all system upgrades and the likelihood that acceptable effluent levels in the spray fields, even at anticipated production levels, can be achieved following an expansion,” Mr. Tirrell stated in the letter.

Mountaire intends to modify its onsite wastewater treatment plant to accommodate the expansion.

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