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Attorney General: Oklahoma Waterways Under Attack By Poultry Industry

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Oklahoma sued the poultry industry in 2005 over disposal of chicken litter. Oklahoma sued the poultry industry in 2005 over disposal of chicken litter.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson made his opening statement Thursday. (AP Photo) Attorney General Drew Edmondson made his opening statement Thursday. (AP Photo)
The Illinois River Watershed covers a million acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The Illinois River Watershed covers a million acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

By Dan Bewley, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Oklahoma's lawsuit trial against the poultry industry began Thursday morning. Lawyers, led by the Oklahoma Attorney General, gave their opening statements.

The state claims poultry pollution is contaminating the Illinois River watershed and filed the suit four years ago.

The Illinois River Watershed covers a million acres in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson says the watershed has been under attack by the poultry industry going back decades.

"They are being degraded," Edmondson said of the waterways. "Lake Tenkiller in the summer months is 70% oxygen dead. It changes the wildlife that lives in the stream and in the lake."

Edmondson claims that waste from poultry farms has contaminated creeks and streams that flow into the watershed. He says the poultry industry produced enough waste from 2001 to 2006 to cover a two-lane highway, 18 inches deep from Tulsa to Fayetteville, Arkansas.   

9/20/2009 Related story: As Poultry Lawsuit Nears, River Is Healing        

Edmondson is suing 11 poultry companies, including Tyson and Cargill, saying the industry is no longer a mom and pop operation and needs to be regulated.

Jackie Cunningham is with the Poultry Community council.

"The poultry industry has done an incredible job of standing up for environmental stewardship," Cunningham said. He said that the poultry industry has a waste management plan that is already approved by the state of Oklahoma.

"That nutrient management plan tells the property owner where, when, and how much they can apply litter to their property," he said 

"That agency that regulates that is the state Department of Agriculture, and they have stated that farmers and ranchers are doing a good job and abiding by the laws."

In court, the state presented several photos showing piles of poultry waste and litter being spread across farms, in some cases less than a quarter of a mile from the Illinois River.

Edmondson says he's targeting the large companies instead of the individual farmers because those companies have control over the entire operation.

"The scientific evidence is that it is a severe problem, it is caused by poultry, and they, the companies and not the growers, need to be responsible for the safe disposal of the waste," Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said.

Edmondson is asking the court to limit waste that can be applied to the ground and he wants the excess litter shipped out of the watershed and destroyed.

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