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AG Seeks To Halt The Spreading Of Poultry Litter

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Oklahoma AG Drew Edmondson seeks injunction to stop the spreading of chicken litter. Oklahoma AG Drew Edmondson seeks injunction to stop the spreading of chicken litter.
The hearing is taking place at the federal courthouse in Tulsa. The hearing is taking place at the federal courthouse in Tulsa.

A battle over the use of poultry manure as fertilizer went to court on Tuesday in a case that could change how farmers dispose of the waste generated by raising chickens.  The News On 6's Emory Bryan reports the lawsuit between the State of Oklahoma and the poultry industry is over whether poultry waste is polluting the water of the Illinois River.

That goes to court next year, but in the meantime the state wants farmers to stop spreading poultry waste on their fields, to stop the alleged pollution right now.

"No industry could get away with what the poultry industry is doing in Arkansas and Oklahoma," said Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

The state claims that farmers who raise chickens in Northeast Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas are polluting the water of the Illinois River.

No one can dispute that the river water quality is not what it should be, but the argument is over why the river is loaded with nutrients and some bacteria.

Poultry farmers claim their use of poultry litter as fertilizer does no harm to the watershed, while the state argues it's such a threat to human health, that it must be stopped immediately.

Both sides are arguing the case in Tulsa Federal Court, in a hearing scheduled to take two weeks, in a case that could have national implications for how farmers deal with the waste generated by the animals they raise.

The Attorney General doesn't want to wait for trial to stop the practice of spreading this manure on fields, because farmers do a lot of that in the early spring when they're planting crops.

Now how does that figure into polluting the river?

The state's case is that farmers spread more than the soil can absorb, so some of it runs off and ends up in the river and some of it seeps down into the underground water.  The state claims that's unhealthy for people who come into contact with the water.

Can the state prove it?

The Attorney General says he can and on Tuesday, a doctor from Tahlequah testified that infections among people who swim in the river are becoming more common and that they take into account whether people have been exposed to the river water when they're treating them for cuts or infections.

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