BY SHARON CRAWFORD
Posted on Friday, May 6, 2005
FAYETTEVILLE - Studies show high levels of arsenic traced back to poultry litter were found in a majority of the Prairie Grove homes tested as part of lawsuits filed against several poultry companies, an environmental chemist testified Thursday.
The testimony came during a motions hearing on the six civil lawsuits filed against a group of companies. The lawsuits claim there is direct link between the illnesses of a group of Prairie Grove residents and Roxarsone, a poultry feed additive.
Attorneys for the residents say Roxarsone found in poultry litter degrades into arsenic.
Rod O’Connor, a retired professor and environmental chemist from Texas, testified he tested about 50 Prairie Grove homes. In most cases, the level of arsenic found in the samples of dust taken from inside the homes was higher than in samples of top soil collected near the residences, he said. "I would consider that to be contaminated site," O’Connor said.
The dust for many of the samples collected from homes traced back to poultry litter, he said. "The big exposure comes during the spreading [of litter] or if it’s dry and they are tilling the fields," he said.
Litter often is used as a fertilizer for crops after it’s cleared from poultry houses.
Attorneys for both sides declined to comment on Thursday’s hearing.
On cross-examination, O’Connor said high levels of arsenic can be found in many places that are unrelated to a poultry farm. But he said the samples he took in the Prairie Grove residents’ homes are all very similar. "Everything in the samples point to the litter," O’Connor said.
After hearing the testimony, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Kim Smith ruled the companies must release details about any poultry farmer who lives within five miles of a home that has tested positive for a high level of arsenic.
Robert George, attorney for Tyson Foods Inc., said providing the information on the farmers would take more than 14,000 pages of documents.
Smith also denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss four of the six cases based on the plaintiffs’ failure to provide discovery. George said that information from the residents is crucial for their defense. "Tyson has been trying to discover the basic information about the plaintiffs in this case," George said. He said the defense will have to research the occupations, residential history and lifestyle of each of the people listed in the lawsuit.
Since 2003, more than 140 Prairie Grove residents have been named as plaintiffs in lawsuits claiming they have suffered because of the chemi- cals found in poultry litter. Thursday, attorneys for the residents announced 30 people have been dropped from the lawsuits for various reasons, but none because of orders of the court.
Smith has scheduled separate month-long trials in two of the cases to be held next year. Defendants in the suits are Alpharma of Fort Lee. N. J., the
maker of the chemical
Roxarsone; Cal-Maine Foods of Jackson, Miss.; Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis; George’s Inc. of Springdale; Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur; Simmons Food Inc. of Siloam Springs; and Tyson Foods of Springdale.