Researches claim that poultry litter less harmful than human waste

An infectious disease specialist testified Friday that chicken litter is wrongly blamed for threatening to the Illinois River watershed.

Dr. Herbert Dupont of St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston said the bacteria count in the Illinois River is too low to cause illnesses such as salmonella.

He said human waste and cow manure are more likely to pollute the river than chicken litter.

"It isn't a problem in my opinion," Dupont said on the sixth day of testimony in Attorney General Drew Edmondson's attempt to stop 13 poultry companies from disposing of waste in the 1 million acre watershed in northeastern Oklahoma.

Dupont, a consultant for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, testified on behalf of the poultry producers and seemed to contradict a Harvard-trained expert who testified on Monday.

Robert Lawrence, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, testified that bacteria levels from land application of poultry waste in the watershed represent a "real and present danger" to public health.

Lawrence said that because of the level of contamination in the watershed, swimmers and canoeists in the Illinois River need to be informed of the risk.

Approximately 155,000 people recreate in the river each year. State and environmental officials claim that years of illegal spreading of the waste, which could include bacteria, antibiotics and harmful metals, is killing Oklahoma 's scenic lakes.

Edmondson sued the poultry companies in 2005, alleging that litter pollution had made Lake Tenkiller in northeastern Oklahoma 70 percent oxygen dead. Edmondson has accused the companies of treating Oklahoma's rivers like open sewers.

The state estimates that more than 345,000 tons of poultry waste is produced annually in the watershed, with the bulk of that tonnage disposed of in the same area. More than 576,000 acres of the watershed are located in Oklahoma.

Companies named in the 2005 complaint include Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., Cal-Maine Farms Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.