Poultry companies seek to spread blame

Tuesday, October 4th 2005, 12:27 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Attorneys for Arkansas poultry companies accused of polluting Oklahoma waters with chemicals from chicken waste have taken legal action to spread the blame.

At a news conference at the state Capitol, a spokeswoman for the poultry industry released legal documents naming 160 other public and private entities contributing to pollution of the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller in Oklahoma.

They included three northeastern Oklahoma towns and cities -- Tahlequah, Westville and Watts -- plus a variety of private entities, including golf courses and housing developments.

Edmondson's office had no immediate comment.

Janet Wilkerson, poultry industry spokeswoman and an employee of Peterson Farms, said septic tanks from development in the area could be a contributor to pollution problems.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson sued eight poultry companies this summer, arguing that runoff from chicken litter pollutes the Illinois River watershed with excess phosphorus, nitrogen and other hazardous substances.

Among the companies being sued is Tyson Food, Inc., the world's largest meat producer.

Chicken litter is the combination of bird manure and rice hulls or wood chips and is used by farmers as fertilizer.

Wilkerson said no determination had been made about the percentage of liability that poultry companies should have.

"We're not admitting guilt. We're just bringing more to the party," she said.

She said one petition filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District in Tulsa late Monday seeks to have Edmondson's lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that the defendants have been adhering to the law and have not been accused of causing pollution by regulatory agencies in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The other action attempts to bring 160 agricultural, municipal and commercial companies in the watershed into the lawsuit.

"By bringing this lawsuit against just one sector of the economy in the Illinois watershed, the attorney general is trying to undermine the state's plan for managing the watershed and water quality in a comprehensive manner," Wilkerson said.

"It's unfortunate that this step was necessary. But the attorney general is seeking to hold the poultry industry 100 percent liable for all of man's and nature's influences in the Illinois watershed, while turning a blind eye to what is really occurring," she added.