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Poultry litter dangerous to human health, AG says

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The state of Arkansas has "utterly failed" to support the poultry industry's claim that bird litter is not a hazardous substance under federal environmental law, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson claims in a new court document.

Edmondson is suing 13 Arkansas-based poultry companies in federal court for allegedly polluting the Illinois River watershed, claiming that over-application of poultry litter there could be a danger to human health.

A trial is expected to begin in September.

Arkansas submitted a motion last month to file an amicus brief supporting the companies, who claim that litter is a valuable fertilizer and that its use already is regulated by both Oklahoma and Arkansas.

But in a response filed Wednesday, Edmondson argues against admitting the brief, saying it would not be "analytically useful."

"Simply put, aside from a bald, unsubstantiated and wholly uninformative assertion about its environmental programs, the state of Arkansas has identified no unique information or perspective that can help the court beyond the help that the lawyers for the parties are able to provide," Edmondson wrote.

The Arkansas motion, submitted by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, claimed that the history of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, EPA regulations and "sound science" did not support "Oklahoma's contention that poultry litter is a hazardous substance."

Charlie Price, a spokesman for Edmondson, said Oklahoma will let the brief speak for itself.

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc., one of the companies named in Oklahoma's 2005 federal lawsuit, said Thursday that "the position taken by the state of Arkansas is correct and should be heard."

"Poultry litter has substantial economic value as a fertilizer on farmland and its use is regulated by the states of Arkansas and Oklahoma," Mickelson said in a statement. "All litter that is land applied (not dumped or disposed of as alleged by the attorney general) as a fertilizer in the Illinois River watershed is done so under a permit issued by one of the two states.

"In fact, the state of Oklahoma continues to authorize the land application of litter as a fertilizer," he said.

Companies named in Edmondson's lawsuit include Tyson, 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.