A poultry plant, years of groundwater contamination and, finally, a court settlement, Residents in Millsboro, Del., sued the local Mountaire facility, which they suspect is linked to their cancers and other serious health problems by Darryl Fears, April 13, 2021, The Washington Post
Even with the stomach cramps, nausea and hurried trips to the bathroom several times a day, Gary Cuppels never suspected his tap water. He kept drinking it, brushing his teeth with it and bathing in it.
Not until he came home one night and found a large pallet of water bottles on his porch did Cuppels start to worry. A note from his “friends at Mountaire,” the chicken processing plant up the road in rural Delaware, said he should drink the bottled water instead of the groundwater his deep well pulled from the northern Chesapeake aquifer. That was in 2017. Investigators would later find that abnormally high level of nitrogen produced by the plant had long made the drinking supply dangerous, possibly even deadly.
Encana/Ovintiv’s own data admit the company intentionally repeatedly frac’d and injected 18 Million litres of nitrogen with undisclosed additives directly into my community’s drinking water aquifers, and many million more litres in numerous frac’d zones beneath them.
Tests on adversely affected area water wells showed abnormally high levels of nitrogen, so high, the investigators for Encana threw the data out! My water had creepy thick white smoke billow off it (likely the high nitrogen) that my dogs snarled at and backed away from. Thereafter, they would only drink water outside in puddles, the river or bottled water, never again my well water. My water caused incredibly painful caustic burns to my eyes and skin and turned potatoes, rice, pasta and vegetables to mush but before they were cooked.
Our regulators, AER, Alberta Environment, and Alberta Health, in cahoots with the Alberta Research Council, helped Encana get away with contaminating an entire community’s drinking water supply. The Supreme Court of Canada helped AER get away with their crimes violating my Charter rights trying to scare me silent instead of regulating the corporate criminal, and worse, used my case to damage Canada’s Charter (Steve Harper must be delighted; he appointed 7/9 of the judges). I must live with that harrowing knowledge the rest of my life.
Canada’s top court ordered me to pay AER’s costs even though my case is obviously in the public interest. Justice Rosalie Abella belittled me and lied about me in her ruling with the court knowingly publishing her lie (four judges called the lie out in their dissent) and sending it to the media in the court summary without including the dissent calling it out. Big oil “justice” – Canada Style.
On Monday, Mountaire agreed to pay $65 million to settle a state lawsuit filed by Cuppels and hundreds of other residents who rely on the aquifer for water. The nation’s sixth-largest poultry company, which is based in Arkansas, also entered into a federal consent decree that requires it to upgrade its facilities at a cost of $120 million and pay another $20 million for maintenance of the improved operations.
According to the Delaware Superior Court lawsuit, the company “sprayed billions of gallons of highly contaminated wastewater and liquefied sludge onto fields,” which then percolated into the groundwater for nearly two decades.
While Mountaire was violating its permits, the suit contends, the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control repeatedly failed to adequately punish the company. A consent decree the state originally sought with Mountaire amounted to less than half of what was announced Monday and “was basically a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound,” attorney Chase T. Brockstedt said Monday.
A recent study of 249 residents found unusually high rates of cancer, gastrointestinal disease, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, wheezing, shortness of breath and other ailments. James Dahlgren, the toxicology specialist who conducted the health survey for the plaintiffs, said Millsboro reminded him of Hinkley, Calif., the Mojave Desert town made infamous in the movie “Erin Brockovich.” Well-water contamination there resulted in a $333 million court settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
“We found the same thing in this population, a significant increase in diarrhea, including inflammatory bowel disease,” Dahlgren, who studied Hinkley residents for that 1996 case, said in an interview. “That is not an unexpected outcome for something that affects the immune system.”
Cuppels, 74, and his wife, Anne-Marie, 73, suspect that the contaminated water is linked to recent removal of their gallbladders. Larry Miller, 70, fears that the water is linked to the deaths of his mother in 2007 and his wife in 2013, who both died of kidney cancer. And Joyce Logan, 77, wonders if the water is connected to her husband’s death from cancer in 2015, and her nephew’s death in 2019 following severe stomach ailments.
“It hit hard, really, really hard,” said Logan, whose German shepherd, Foxy, also suffered from stomach problems and had to be put down a few months before her husband died. “It was just devastating.”
Brockstedt and co-counsel Philip C. Federico said Monday that it probably will take a year for a court-appointed official to determine how the settlement should be split among the class of 7,200 eligible plaintiffs. Federico said some will be rewarded with far more money than others, and a large number will get filtration systems to clean their well water.
Here come the usual lies and pretend to be angelic with “new wastewater treatment plant” that will likely cut corners and keep polluting, with regulators scratching their balls in agreement. In a statement, Mountaire said it does not believe it “caused any damage to any of the plaintiffs” but chose to settle so it could start constructing a new wastewater treatment plant that will allow it to continue operations in Millsboro.
“The settlement resolves all outstanding class action claims for injuries, damages, or nuisance,” company president Phillip Plylar said. “We’re ready to put this chapter behind us and forge a new relationship with our neighbors moving forward.” Disgusting being.
The issues raised by the Mountaire case are similar to those in many cases focused on environmental justice. But the vast majority affect African American, Latino and Native American communities. Millsboro, by contrast, is nearly 70 percent White. The poultry processing plant is the main employer in town, where per capita income is $10,000 below the national average.
Mountaire Farms, a subsidiary of Mountaire Corp., promised more jobs when it took over the plant from Townsend in 2000. It immediately set out to double the number of chickens processed there, according to the lawsuit. But as it increased production, it failed to adequately upgrade the system that treats wastewater contaminated with nitrogen, phosphorus and other chemicals. Daily, the company drenched spraying fields around the plant with 2 million gallons of largely untreated wastewater. It maintained 9 million-gallon lagoons that leaked into Swan Creek, which flows into the Indian River.
Nitrogen also trickled into the groundwater. The nitrate level reached more than 25 parts per million, far exceeding safety limits and raising the risk of severe health problems, including cancers of the bladder and stomach, as well as brain tumors, the lawsuit alleged. Dahlgren’s report noted that other ailments also can develop, including birth defects and “blue baby syndrome,” a condition that is fatal to newborns.
A 2018 state investigation led to a $600,000 penalty that required Mountaire to upgrade its wastewater treatment facility and take steps to lower the level of nitrates sprayed, among other things. The state environmental agency allowed Mountaire to reduce the payment by $180,000 for actions it took to improve the environment, spokeswoman Nikki Lavoie said. Encana/Ovintiv was fined $0.00 for illegally frac’ing my community’s drinking water supply, and was not even ordered to repair the aquifers.
My “water.” Image by FrackingCanada.
It’s now 17 years contaminated, with aquifer repair as invisible as our regulators.
Federico criticized the lack of government enforcement and called the penalty “a slap on the wrist” for a company with revenue of more than $2 billion per year. He and Brockstedt had brought in a specialist in plant operations to testify in the case.
“In all that I have done,” said Kenneth Norcross, who helps bring troubled factories into compliance, “I’ve never seen anything as unprofessional and as far off the mark as this one was.” During his video presentation, he described the plant’s years-long problems as “disturbing and really unusual. There’s been more violations and more gross incompetence … than any other system I’ve seen.” I expect on par with Encana’s.
Norcross highlighted failures also flagged by the state. For months, he noted, Mountaire did not report data showing the amount of nitrogen its Millsboro plant produced, failed to produce lab tests showing the facility was being monitored and failed to report groundwater monitoring results. Despite these issues, it sought to expand operations and process more poultry for market.
At her home bordering Mountaire’s property, Logan was sometimes forced to stay indoors for weeks to avoid the rotten-egg smell of sulfur in the air outside. “It’s, like, in the fields and stuff. It’s a manure smell,” she said. “Sometimes you can smell it when you come home from church, and it’s in your house.”
Logan was suspicious of her water shortly after moving from New Jersey in 2005. “It had a yellowish color, and it didn’t look clear,” she said. A retiree who had worked for American Water, she asked her former employer for bottled water to take home.
Cuppels, a retired wastewater treatment plant designer, called the state after that first pallet of water showed up at his house along the Indian River. He remembers it was a Friday night. “It scared the bejeezus out of us,” Cuppels said. “That’s pretty frightening, and you had to live with it over the weekend and wait until Monday.”
When Cuppels learned about the company’s wastewater violations, he called Federico and Brockstedt, who filed the class-action suit the next year. As the litigation proceeded, and Mountaire sought to have the case dismissed, Anne-Marie Cuppels developed severe diarrhea and colitis from a C. diff infection. “She was a very, very sick woman,” her husband said.
By that time, Miller had already lost his wife, Barbara. “We were bathing, cooking, drinking with the water” before her cancer developed, Miller said. He didn’t discover that the water was dangerous until the lawyers held town hall meetings in late 2018.
Miller said he will never again trust the water, the state or Mountaire. “I wish we had known then,” he said. “We would have quit drinking the water or complained about what they were doing.”
Encana and our “regulators” – including Alberta Health – knew and didn’t tell any of us at Rosebud either, not even the pregnant women. I wish I had known too.
Darryl Fears is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter on the national staff who covers environmental justice. Over more than two decades at the Post, he has covered the Interior Department, the Chesapeake Bay, urban affairs and race & demographics. In that role, he helped conceptualize a multiple award-winning project, “Being A Black Man.”
A few of the comments:
Civil settlements and government fines aren’t enough. Company executives knew what was happening. They should be prosecuted.
It is time that the US dirty judicial system Canada’s is dirty too. We hide it better, and selfishly, too many Canadians with the power to clean it up, don’t dare rock our corrupt judicial boat. grow up and stop providing a veil for certain hedge funds, family trusts, board of directors and management groups that do this kind of damage to an environment and lives. There should be a scratch back path for all this damage. If people can be taxed to clean this up all those that profited can be taxed first. At some point this has to stop and accountabity must be held to be the first priority.
Broken Dreams and Vanished Years:
Now the sixth largest chicken company in the United States, we are still family owned and remain dedicated to giving back to the communities where we do business.
I suppose contaminating the groundwater was a way of giving back to the Millsboro, Delaware community.
Someone needs to go to jail. A fine is insufficient deterrence. I bet the company won’t pay the fine, just as many don’t in Canada or, they made a secret deal with those fining them, to get more than they are fined.
The same story repeated thousands of times over. Company wantonly pollutes and actively evades compliance for decades, generations of people & environment are irreversibly harmed, lax oversight by licensing & monitoring authorities (protect those jobs!), company responds dismissively.
(You can’t prove it was us) “does not believe it “caused any damage to any of the plaintiffs” but chose to settle…”
(A lot of people might have died but) “we’re ready to put this chapter behind us and forge a new relationship…”
The pain of legal fines is no pain at all.
Industrial agriculture is a global evil. And people are fooled – like they were by cigarette companies – into believing eating the bodies of these poor creatures is “healthy.” It’s a full cycle of torture and contamination.
$300M isn’t enough. $1B is closer to the right figure. And lengthy jail sentences for everyone involved in the pollution. But Delaware being a corporate bastion and the victims being mostly black, this is the pitiful result. It won’t stop this or another corporation from doing the exact same thing again.
Polluted water brought to you courtesy of the same industry that, until 2013, pumped your meat full of arsenic to give it that attractive rosy color.
Just a country lawyer:
And of course the last administration worked hard to gut clean water regulations as well, making recovery for many similar claims that much more difficult.
The earth is going to shake us off like the fleas we are. Insult to fleas. Humans are much worse beings than fleas could ever be.
Companies have been polluting our water ways and aquifers for so many years it’s a wonder things aren’t worse. The point in the article which needs to be cleaned up as much as the polluters is the State and Fed EPA inspectors or upper management that are obviously not doing their jobs, possibly taking bribes. I am hoping Biden administration can turn pollution issues around.
Oh, pollution in our drinking/bathing water supplies are worse than you know. The meager standards we have in place neglect to address the compounding effects of multiple chemicals together. The exposure from bathing/inhaling volatile chemicals in the bath/shower, in addition to drinking, is far greater than most people realize. And of the roughly 167 million registered man-made chemicals, only 1% has been tested for toxicity and of those, nearly all demonstrate the ability to disrupt our biological processes.
The sugar industry laid siege to the natural wonder and beauty of the Everglades. Corporate greed rules the day at the expense of every living breathing creature. What a blight we have wrought upon the land.
Mountaire obviously didn’t give enough money to the GOP. Enough to get only a slap on the wrist but insufficient to get away with it completely.
This is such a common story in the U.S. In corporate controlled Canada too and it just keeps happening. A polluting business/corporation goes for years contaminating the air, soil and water source in the area it occupies. In the meantime area residence continue to die at unusually high rates of cancer etc.. The legal battles go on for years as people continue to die. Finally sometimes there is a resolution with some justice but never as much justice as is called for. How dare I make this accusation? I grew up in one of these places but I survived. My Dad however didn’t because he, having only a grade school education, worked as a blue collar laborer at the plant that caused all the pollution. My Dad died at 54 of cancer. The small town when I grew up eventually became a Superfund site and the plant that caused this damage closed and moved to a different place opening up under a different name. But in spite of their culpability in these sad stories, the rich owners keep making the big bucks and living the good life. And this story just keeps going on and on and on.
Ms Storm Stockton:
why is it ok to poison people just because the factory supplies jobs?? and BTW check out sometime what types of jobs these chicken processing plants provide…..horrible conditions for the chickens and the low paid employees……it should be a CRIME!!!
They prey on these low income communities because they know they can get away with it.
Donor gives money to Republican candidate. Republican candidate votes to gut government regulations, decrease corporate income tax and reduce tax on wealthy individuals. Donor get more back than he donates to candidate. And that’s how it works.
Mountaire is owned by a man named Ronald Cameron, a very rich Republican donor. From Wikipedia: Political activities Cameron is a major donor to Arkansas politician Tom Cotton and The Club for Growth. Cameron also donated a million dollars to Freedom Partners in 2014. In the Republican Party presidential primaries, 2016 he contributed $3 million to the Super PAC supporting Mike Huckabee and after Huckabee dropped out donated 5 million to Conservative Solutions PAC which supported Marco Rubio’s bid.
Montaire made $2.3B in 2020
Refer also to:
Damaging the Charter: Ernst vs Alberta Energy Regulator by Lorne Sossin, Dean Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. Comment: “It causes one to question how much both the plurality and the dissent were driven by the desired end-state of the judgment, rather than consistency in applying principles of public law.”