A report released Monday by Delaware’s Center for the Inland Bays finds past violations at Mountaire Farms’ Millsboro facility affect the Indian River watershed and will likely degrade it over time.
According to the report, groundwater from under Mountaire’s Millsboro plant moves quickly through sandy soils and flows toward Swan Creek and the Indian River.
The Center for the Inland Bays' executive director Chris Bason says contaminated groundwater from Mountaire can fuel algae growth and destroy fish habitat in the river.
"That algae sucks oxygen out of the water," Bason said. "It prevents bay grass from growing. It also engenders bacteria growth and that can make the waters unsafe for swimming and harvesting shellfish."
The center cites Mountaire’s nitrogen violations from 2009 and 2015 and says permit enforcement from the state and EPA has been relaxed.
In 2003, the EPA ordered Mountaire to implement a remediation program to get its nitrates down to safe levels. According to the center, the status of enforcing that order is uncertain.
Bason says the findings in the report are unfortunate, but there's an opportunity for a positive outcome.
"The company can become a good environmental steward and work with everybody to clean up the river," Bason said. I think that’s the silver lining if there is one, to this issue."
The center's board of directors formed a committee to investigate the issues at Mountaire's Millsboro plant in January.
Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is still investigating Mountaire and the wastewater issues at its Millsboro facility that came to light in 2017.