An injunction was filed earlier this month asking a federal judge to ban spreading of poultry litter in the 1 million-acre Illinois River watershed. Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson cited an “imminent and substantial endangerment of the public health,” in the paperwork asking for the injunction.

The motion for the preliminary injunction maintains that unless the court grants the request by the spring, the fecal bacteria found in poultry waste could pose a health threat to the 155,000 people who recreate in the river each year. This injunction request is just the latest move in an ongoing lawsuit against 14 Arkansas-based poultry companies claiming that they have polluted the Illinois River watershed with nutrients from chicken and turkey litter.

Speaking at a news conference, Edmondson said, “The amount that is being spread amounts to hundreds of thousands of tons of poultry litter every year. It contains E. coli and contains indicator bacteria for salmonella, staphylococcus and other bacteria that are dangerous to human health.”

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Poultry integrators operating in Arkansas formed the Poultry Community Council last year to help educate the public about the poultry industry and its practices. Jackie Cunningham, community relations director for the Poultry Community Council, said that Edmondson has failed to provide specific examples or evidence of damage caused by poultry farming. “There is no imminent and substantial endangerment to public health from the safe, government regulated practice of using poultry manure as fertilizer,” Cunningham said. “If there were, Oklahoma’s own state officials who monitor the river and protect the health of Oklahoma’s citizens surely would have addressed.”

Charlie Price, a spokesman for the Oklahoma attorney general’s office, said, “We have long believed that the poultry industry’s actions are a hazard to the environment, but the data collected by scientists and experts through the course of this lawsuit has convinced us that the threat to human health is greater than we first thought.”