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Landmark $205 Million Groundwater Settlement Approved

Holding Mountaire Accountable to Protect Our Environment

  • Over nearly four years, Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A partners Philip Federico and Brent Ceryes led an investigation and litigation against chicken processing company Mountaire, resulting in a $205 million class action settlement that was approved on April 12, 2021.
  • After local and federal regulators failed to stop Mountaire’s pollution of the groundwater in Millsboro, Delaware, we worked with community members and environmental experts to put an end to the contamination and hold Mountaire accountable.
  • This historic settlement – believed to be the largest ever involving nitrate groundwater contamination – includes a $65 million fund for members of the community, $120 million for the necessary plant upgrades and remediation at Mountaire, and $20 million for ongoing operations and maintenance.

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Landmark $205 Million Groundwater Settlement Approved
Holding Polluters Accountable to Protect Our Environment

A historic $205 million settlement against chicken processing company Mountaire was approved that will provide compensation to the people of Millsboro, Delaware and also clean their land, air, and water. Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A. led an investigation into the company on behalf of Millsboro residents, whose groundwater had been severely contaminated by Mountaire, resulting in dangerously high levels of nitrates in the water. After federal and local regulators failed to stop the contamination, we did. Today, Mountaire will be held accountable, and Millsboro will soon see its community once again become a safe and healthy place to live and work.

Clean water is essential to human health. From pesticides to industrial waste, chemicals that cause harm to humans and the environment are the subject of regulatory controls to prevent injury through exposure. When controls break down, or historically poor treatment methods give way, toxic contamination of groundwater can occur. Learn more.

For over 20 years, chicken processing company Mountaire knew that its illegal disposal practices were polluting the groundwater and air of Millsboro, Delaware. Instead of fixing the problem, the company rapidly increased production and waste generation. This complete disregard for safety created a substantial threat to the people of Millsboro, contaminating their drinking water, causing serious health problems, and diminishing their property values and way of life. Instead of addressing this public health hazard, Mountaire chose profit.

 

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About Mountaire / Poultry Industry 

  • Founded in 1914, Mountaire is the 6th largest chicken company in the country with its corporate headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. The company generated more than $2.3 billion in revenue in 2019.
  • The plant generates about 2 million gallons of wastewater per day, which includes feathers, dirt, fecal matter, blood, flesh and fat, as well as slaughtering, grease chiller, and processing wastewater.
  • Companies like Mountaire dispose of the wastewater and sludge left over from wastewater treatment operations through spray irrigating and land application on croplands and forests.
  • There are federal and state laws that mandate how waste is handled to ensure whatever pollutants are in it can be absorbed by crops and do not negatively impact drinking water sources and the environment. One example is a federal safe drinking water standard for nitrates of 10 milligrams per liter.
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Disposal Practices

  • Our investigation — led by Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A partners Philip Federico and Brent Ceryes — found that Mountaire repeatedly and consistently chose to violate their permits to pad its bottom line.
  • Mountaire acquired its processing facility in Millsboro in May 2000 and has since dumped billions of gallons of highly contaminated wastewater and liquefied sludge on lands near residences.
  • Despite being repeatedly cited for violating local and federal laws as early as 2002, Mountaire did little to change its waste disposal practices.
  • The violations caused wastewater and sludge to seep into the groundwater and spread for miles throughout the community.
  • That escalated the concentration of nitrates and other contaminants to dangerously high levels that polluted drinking water wells. In some cases, the nitrate levels were two or three times the federal safe drinking water standard of 10 milligrams per liter.
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Impact

  • The people of Millsboro who had the misfortune of living near the Mountaire plant suffered the consequences.
  • Human consumption of water containing levels of nitrate exceeding 5 ppm significantly enhances the risk of potentially severe health problems.
    • These include but are not limited to birth defects, brain damage and tumors, cancer, Type 1 diabetes, thyroid issues, autoimmune system dysfunction, and death.
    • Pregnant women and nursing mothers are at the highest risk because babies exposed to high levels of nitrates are prone to methemoglobinemia, commonly called “blue baby syndrome,” which can be fatal.
  • The health issues were only the start of the impact on quality of life for Millsboro residents.
    • Levels of hydrogen sulfide released into the air by Mountaire created a constant offensive odor so strong it prevented people from being able to be outside.
    • The water quality and the smell also significantly affected property values, so homeowners lost their hard-earned money because of Mountaire’s misconduct.
    • Many area residents wanted to leave but were stuck in Millsboro because no one would buy their homes.
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Investigation

  •  Mountaire continued to increase production and waste generation, and accordingly, data show contamination in the area continued to get worse.
  • Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A., became aware of the issue and led a team in investigating Mountaire’s waste management practices at its Millsboro facility.
    • As part of the extensive investigation, we reviewed thousands of pages of documents on Mountaire's conduct, tested the wells of over 100 Millsboro residents, spoke with residents to monitor for health effects, and interviewed former Mountaire employees about the plant's practices.
    • We worked with over a dozen consultants and experts to help take on Mountaire, including a hydrogeologist, wastewater management expert, economist, and environmental engineer.

Litigation & Settlement

  • On June 13, 2018, Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A. and co-counsel filed a lawsuit against Mountaire on behalf of more than 800 area citizens affected by Mountaire’s pollution.
  • After extensive litigation, a $205 settlement was reached and approved by the court on April 12, 2021.
    • As part of the settlement, Mountaire will create a $65 million fund for those in the Millsboro community who have been harmed by its misconduct.
    • Mountaire will also conduct plant upgrades and remediation valued at $120 million at its Millsboro plant, including the establishment of a clean drinking water source, a medical monitoring program, a water monitoring program, remediation of their contaminated groundwater, nearby surface waters, and Indian River, and the connection of properties to a public water supply at no cost.
    • An additional $20 million will go towards ongoing operations and maintenance.
  •  This historic settlement will provide this region and its residents the resources to repair the damage caused by Mountaire and protect future citizens from suffering these completely preventable consequences.
  • This time, Mountaire will not be able to escape its obligations, with a class action settlement and a federal consent decree binding the corporation to these commitments.

 

Members of the litigation team included Partners Philip Federico and Brent Ceryes, Associate Attorney Matthew Legg, and Litigation Paralegal Erika  Sneeringer. Schochor, Federico & Staton, P.A. took on Mountaire – a corporation that had evaded accountability for years – and got results for the people of Millsboro. As a result of years of investigation and hard work, Mountaire will finally be held accountable and forced to make the long overdue changes necessary for Millsboro to once again be a healthy, safe place to live and work.

 

washington-postA poultry plant, years of groundwater contamination and, finally, a court settlement Read Article

 


philly_inquirerPollution settlements cost Delaware poultry producer $205 million. Read Article

 


law.comMountaire Pollution Settlement Means Big Payout for Class Attorneys, Bigger Win Expected in Federal Court. Read Article


Poultry Industry Must Answer for Polluting Maryland Communities Read Commentary by Philip Federico

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