A Wilmington attorney has joined forces with two Washington, D.C., watchdog groups to give Mountaire 90 days notice of filing a lawsuit.
Thomas Crumplar of Jacobs & Crumplar represents about 80 people who live near the Mountaire Farms Inc. poultry plant near Millsboro with private wells that have recorded high levels of nitrates. Crumplar together with Public Justice and Food & Water Watch groups sent a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act notice to Mountaire on March 27, giving them 90 days to respond upon receipt. RCRA allows citizens living in the vicinity of toxic facilities a means of redress when their health or safety is damaged or at risk.
“If they do not reply within 90 days, we will sue,” said Jessica Culpepper, staff attorney at Public Justice.
The 90-day time period also gives state and federal officials the opportunity to address what the attorneys say is Mountaire's deliberate contamination of Sussex County groundwater through its wastewater disposal process. The company continues to dispose of high levels of nitrogen onto surrounding land through spray application, which has caused increased nitrates in drinking water. Residents living near the plant with private wells have recorded levels above the established limit of 10 parts per million, some with levels four times the allowable limit.
“Rural residents who rely on well water often don't know they are drinking poisoned water, and that's the case here,” Culpepper said.
“It's not acceptable to poison the water and then send bottled water,” she said, referring to Mountaire's delivery of bottled water to homes near its wastewater disposal facility.
Gina Burton, a resident who lives near Mountaire, has been receiving bottled water from Mountaire since a failure of the company's wastewater treatment center last summer. Levels of nitrates and other contaminants well exceeded approved levels in what Mountaire officials called an upset of its wastewater treatment plant.
“The amount of water they give us is not enough,” she said.
Crumplar, whose law firm is also working with Washington, D.C.-based Nidel & Nace, said they could have filed personal injury lawsuits against Mountaire, but his clients wanted long-lasting changes.
“They wanted more than compensation,” he said. “They are concerned about other generations and what would happen to their grandchildren.”
A Lewes law firm, Baird Mandalas Brockstedt, is also representing clients in a potential lawsuit. There was talk of the two law firms working together, but they are working separately for now, Crumplar said.
Crumplar also said his firm has received no reply from Mountaire.
Mountaire could not be reached for comment.