Something `Fowl' in the Air; Research Finds Toxic Contamination From Poultry Industry Linked to Disease and Death

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The hundreds of tons of chicken litter produced by the poultry industry's chicken farms is leading to high rates of disease and death, according to recently completed research by an environmental team of experts in Prairie Grove, Ark. The research was conducted for Lundy & Davis law firm, which has filed a lawsuit against the poultry industry of Northwest Arkansas on behalf of a group of clients suffering from serious health conditions they say are the direct result of exposure to toxic contaminants found in chicken litter.

Named defendants in the case include Tyson, Simmons Foods, George's Farms, Cargill, Peterson Farms and Cal-Maine Farms. Results of the research report will be presented at a news conference January 14 in Little Rock.

According to attorneys Hunter Lundy and Clayton Davis, their firm became involved in the case at the request of a several residents in Prairie Grove who had already reported their concerns about the number of cancer cases in their community to government agencies.

"Residents of Prairie Grove have complained for years about the odor and clouds of dust that are emitted from the chicken farms and the spreading of the chicken litter," said Lundy. "We now know that they have much more than an offensive odor to be concerned about."

Lundy says their environmental and health surveys have found extremely alarming levels of toxic contamination and disease incidence in Prairie Grove, all of which can be directly linked back to the poultry industry's negligent management and disposal of chicken litter.

"Decades of relentless growth in the quest for ever-increasing profits have resulted in more than an 80 percent increase in the number of chicken houses in Washington County over the last decade. For years, chicken litter generated on these farms has been sold and distributed as fertilizer in a three to five-mile radius within the community. As the once backyard chicken shacks have grown into factory farms, the sheer volume of waste, and the toxic chemicals it contains, has become overwhelming and hazardous -- and the people in charge of the poultry industry know this is true," states Lundy.

"I live here and I know people who are sick," says Prairie Grove attorney John Baker, who is also representing the residents in the lawsuit. "The disease rates we have here are staggering for a community this size. Our town is paying a tragically high price for the poultry industry's profits."

Lundy says the cancer rates found are as much as 50 times higher than the national average. Medical personnel at Children's Hospital in Little Rock can attest to the high rate of childhood cancers that occur in Northwest Arkansas. They say this area led to the need for their pediatric oncology program. From the 146 health surveys completed and analyzed by experts, a wide range of health problems was reported, including cancer, autoimmune diseases and skin disorders. Forty-three people reported some form of cancer, including three cases of leukemia in just one neighborhood, five cases of liver cancer, including an 8-month-old baby. Researchers say this liver cancer rate is an extreme anomaly, considering that the national rate of liver cancer is one in 10,000. In addition, five cases of testicular cancer were reported and sixty respondents had some form of skin disorder. "As our data was gathered, we began looking at health records of people who had died from some of these same types of disease, and what we found further supported our data," added Baker.

According to the researchers, all of these conditions can be linked directly to the chicken litter and chicken compost from the chicken farms in the area. Arsenic, bacteria and fungus were identified as the main sources of the health problems experienced by residents of Prairie Grove. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, organic arsenic compounds are extensively added to poultry feed to enhance growth.

"This decreases the time it takes for a chick to mature, increasing production for the farms and profits for the poultry company," says Lundy. The most common arsenical poultry feed is Roxarsone. "By design, most of the arsenic, which is number one on the EPAs toxic substance list, is excreted in the manure of the chickens. Our research has found that pound per pound, the amount of waste, and therefore the amount of arsenic spread throughout the community, is nearly identical to the amount of Roxarsone fed to the chickens. Basically, what goes into the chickens to increase the company's production and profits, is being spread in the community where it causes disease and death."

The contamination process occurs through the air as the waste breaks down, releasing the arsenic and bacteria into the air. The wind then carries these airborne toxic substances throughout the community, according to researchers, where it is inhaled by citizens. Researchers took dust and air duct samples from 22 residences and area businesses in Prairie Grove, including four schools located next to farms where chicken litter is spread. "The levels of toxic substances we found was off any chart you could find for safe indications of these contaminants, and what we found in our sampling is just a snapshot measurement of what these people were being exposed to at that time. Even more alarming is thinking about what these residents have been exposed to over the years in this community," says Baker.

Lundy says the suit was filed against the poultry companies because they control every aspect of the operation of the chicken farms, including the ingredients in the chicken feed. "Prairie Grove is not an isolated incident. The chemicals in the litter have impacted the environment and now they are poisoning people. The spreading of chicken litter has been banned in some areas of the country, but this industry-wide problem has gone unchecked for too long in many other areas like Prairie Grove," says Lundy. "People are sick and dying and these companies have known about the health risks they are creating for years. Even worse than doing nothing, they have made the situation worse and more hazardous by expanding their production farms. By generating such huge volumes of waste in an effort to increase production, and by further increasing their profits by distributing the litter as fertilizer in the surrounding area, this industry is literally turning the communities in which they operate into toxic dumps. Now that we have research that clearly illustrates the gravity of the situation, we have an ethical obligation to warn the public that if they live in close proximity to a farm where chicken litter is spread, they are at great risk for exposure to deadly substances."

Source: Lundy & Davis