DNREC files consent decree in Mountaire pollution case

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The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has filed a consent decree related to pollution by poultry processor Mountaire Farms of Delaware.

The action calls for Mountaire to make short-term corrective measures, long-term system upgrades at the plant and for Mountaire to provide an alternative water supply to nearby residents. Mountaire did not admit liability.

The filing requests that the Superior Court approve a consent decree that deals with permit violations through cash penalties and mitigation measures that reduce the total nitrogen amount sprayed above permit limits by Mountaire’s Millsboro site.

Mountaire issues statement regarding consent decree

DNREC has also filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, claiming that Mountaire has violated the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act.

On Sept. 5, 2017, Mountaire reported to DNREC that the Millsboro wastewater treatment facility was in failure due to a build-up of solids throughout the plant, as well as a depletion of oxygen in the plant’s aerobic operations, causing Mountaire’s wastewater to exceed the limits ofits spray permit, a DNREC release stated.

Mountaire undertook interim action to reduce the solids from spray effluent and disinfect effluent prior to its application on the spray fields. In November 2017, Mountaire submitted a corrective action work plan setting forth interim measures and proposed long-term measures for permit compliance.

On Nov. 2, 2017, DNREC issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) identifying 17 categories of permit violations, including 13 categories of spray permit violations, and four categories of land application permit violations.

Interim measures by Mountaire resulted in significant improvements in the quality of the effluent from the wastewater treatment plant. Full permit compliance is not expected to be consistently achieved until Mountaire completes a planned long-term wastewater treatment plant upgrade, DNREC reported.

The consent decree, which was submitted for approval in Delaware Superior Court, requires Mountaire Farms to pay a civil penalty of $600,000 and to reimburse the Department $25,000 for expenses incurred during the Department’s investigation.

The consent decree also requires Mountaire to implement a beneficial environmental offset project that will reduce the penalty by 30 percent to $420,000 by offering an alternative water supply to nearby residents.

Mountaire will begin environmental mitigation upon completion of the wastewater treatment plant upgrades.

Mitigation involves relocating Mountaire’s shallow production wells to spray fields where elevated levels of nitrates occur in the groundwater, using this well water for processing within the plant, treating the water at the upgraded treatment plant, and finally applying the water to the spray fields in accordance with spray permit requirements to achieve a net reduction of nitrates in the groundwater.

The relocated production wells will allow for hydraulic control of groundwater – a “pump and treat” system – beneath the spray fields to assist in capture and treatment of nitrates that may move from potential onsite or offsite sources even after the 2:1 mitigation is complete.

The consent decree can be found on the DNREC website at http://www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Info/Pages/SecOrders_Enforcement.aspx.

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