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Diane Longo used to be so afraid of the water from her private well that she went to her friend’s house to shower for four years. She also brought back gallons of water for herself, her husband, and their dogs.
Longo said she wasn’t the only one who didn’t trust what came out of her taps.
“My family wouldn’t come to visit me, because they were afraid of the water,” she said.
Diane Longo in her home in Millsboro, Del., with a photo her beloved dog who passed. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
The 72-year-old left Philadelphia for the town of Millsboro, Del. to enjoy retirement and be closer to the beach. But, instead of relaxation, Longo has felt the stress of having contaminated water.
The well water at her home contains nitrates, which are linked to some serious health problems, including blue baby syndrome among infants, thyroid disease, and some cancers. Nitrates can be found in fertilizers, discharge from sewage systems, and animal manure, which if near the ground’s surface, may contaminate the groundwater.
Longo is one of more than 3,000 Millsboro residents receiving compensation from a 2021 $65 million class action settlement with Mountaire Farms. The company’s chicken processing plant is in Sussex County, Delaware’s southernmost county.
According to a lawsuit filed in 2018, Mountaire sprayed contaminated wastewater from a failing treatment system, as well as liquefied sludge, onto nearby fields. That caused high levels of nitrates to seep into groundwater, and ultimately residents’ drinking water, for nearly 20 years — putting people at risk for serious health problems, according to the lawsuit.
Last month, residents began to receive their settlement checks, which range from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mountaire also has taken steps to address nitrate pollution as part of a separate consent agreement with the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
The Mountaire Chicken plant in Millsboro, Del. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)