When taking a drink of water from the kitchen faucet, or filling the tub for a bath, few people stop to think about the cleanliness of the water. But residents in the Millsboro area have to think about it every single day. That’s because it was recently discovered that the nearby Mountaire Farms poultry processing plant was the cause of serious water contamination, and that could have a very damaging impact on residents’ health.
In Blades, Delaware – less than 20 miles away – the response to this news was immediate. Within a day neighbors were notified, and the Delaware National Guard was mobilized to provide them with access to safe, clean water. Governor John Carney was there to help distribute bottled water to residents. For people living in the Millsboro area, however, the response was quite different.
Residents in the Millsboro area did not learn of the contamination for months. Even after the announcement, it was yet another month before water supplies were delivered to their front steps, and no explanation was provided.
It turned out that there were potentially dangerous levels of nitrate and fecal coliform in the groundwater from the Montaire plant in both communities. The chicken giant had been spraying highly contaminated waste on hundreds of acres of farmland, and had not kept groundwater pollution levels in check. This went on for an unknown length of time – perhaps decades – and affected the surrounding area.
At least 25 homes in the Millsboro area were found to have nitrate levels significantly exceeding federal drinking water standards. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) issued a citation to Mountaire Farms for polluting the groundwater near its plant and Mountaire admitted to wastewater violations.
Both Blades and Millsboro area residents faced the same problem: contamination of the water they depended on every day. So why was the response so different? There may be multiple reasons.
The unincorporated Millsboro area has both an economic and geographic vulnerability. Many believe that race and poverty may play a significant role as well. The median household income there is nearly $20,000 below the state average, and there is a poverty rate of 15.9 percent, which is higher than both the state and county average. A lack of political and economic power creates an atmosphere for environmental injustice.
The elected officials that represent the Millsboro area have admitted that Mountaire was culpable. However, they have also recently stated that Mountaire is a substantial employer, and a loss of the company would have a dramatic impact on the economy and agriculture. In other words, big corporations have great political influence.
Although the chemicals found in the water of the two communities vary, residents of both contaminated sites could experience adverse health effects – especially children and pregnant women. The legal team at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. is working in partnership with Washington-based Nidel & Nace, PLLC to help the residents of the Millsboro area.
To hear the audio from a recorded interview about the case, click here.
The Delaware environmental lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. are committed to helping those who have been harmed by environmental contaminants. To learn more about our services, contact us online or call 302-656-5445 or 800-355-1818 today to arrange a free consultation. We have offices in Wilmington and Georgetown to represent individuals and families throughout Delaware.