Lawsuit filed against poultry industry, Arkansas town

Monday, December 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The city of Tulsa filed a federal lawsuit Monday in an attempt to force the poultry industry to clean up the Lake Eucha watershed.

The lawsuit accused six out-of-state poultry processors and an Arkansas town of causing taste and odor problems with Tulsa's drinking water coming from lakes Spavinaw and Eucha. Together, the lakes are one of two main drinking water sources for the city.

``The problem is simple,'' said Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage. ``The industry has polluted our lakes and is causing their premature death. The degradation of Tulsa's water ties to the chicken litter that is applied to land in the watershed. We believe that must stop, and we believe the industry must be responsible for the cost of the clean-up.''

The city and Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Monday morning. Defendants are Tyson Foods, Cobb-Vantress, Peterson Farms, Simmons Foods, Cargill and George's. The city of Decatur, Arkansas, also is a defendant.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for past and future costs to treat the taste and odor, and an injunction for further pollution of the watersheds.

``We do not believe the taxpayers of Tulsa should be paying to clean up the mess created by those who have chosen not to be responsible for their own waste,'' said Jim Cameron, chairman of authority's board. ``Our lakes are dying due to this pollution.''

The city began discussing legal options after a state attorney general's opinion this year suggested that poultry corporations could be liable for pollution produced by their contract growers.

For years, the city has been battling escalating, chronic taste and odor problems in the drinking water it draws from Lake Spavinaw, which is fed by Lake Eucha. Those problems have been linked mostly to chicken production in the watershed.

The taste and odor do not create a health risk to humans but are costly to treat.

Tulsa has spent more than $4 million to correct water problems.

Studies on Lake Eucha conducted by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board all indicate that the chronic taste and odor problems plaguing the water supply are a result from an overload of nutrients, specifically phosphorus.

For decades, poultry contract farmers have applied phosphorous-rich chicken litter to pastures as fertilizer. The watershed has the capacity to produce more than 84 million birds, along with some 1,500 tons of chicken litter per year, the studies state.