February 16, 2009 12:17 pm  

AG looks for E. coli poultry link

Source of Article:  http://www.pryordailytimes.com/local/local_story_047121741.html

Sommer Woodward
Staff Reporter

The State Attorney General wants to know if poultry litter caused a severe

E. coli outbreak in Locust Grove.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will inspect and sample the water in private wells within a five mile area of Locust Grove. The tests are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 18-19.

“The goal is to protect the public,” said Attorney General Drew Edmondson. He said homeowners who use well water within five miles of Locust Grove can call to have their wells tested. He said the testing is to give homeowners information about what is in their wells so they can make informed decisions.

The AG office is investigating a

possible link between the E. coli

outbreak at the Country Cottage restaurant in Locust Grove and poultry litter contamination in the well water.

“We thought there were questions not being asked and answers not being

provided,” said Edmondson.

In September 2008, the state health department tested the Country Cottage well water. Leslea Bennett-Webb, with the State Health Department, said

several contaminants were found in the well water, including E. coli, but E. coli 0111, the strain responsible for the outbreak, wasn’t one of them. Bennett-Webb said the health department wasn’t able to find E. coli 0111 among many

potential sources for the outbreak, including food, food surfaces, handlers and the well. However, she said the health department cannot rule out the well water as a possible source. But the health department can’t rule out the food, handlers or food surfaces in the kitchen as possible sources either. The health department is still working on their investigation.

“This was such a big deal,” she said. “We’re taking this really, really seriously. We looked and looked and looked for the cause and we’ve not yet been able to say ‘this is the smoking gun.’”

Edmondson said his office is concerned with how the E. coli found got into the well water in the first place. DEQ states porous soil in the Locust Grove area makes water wells more susceptible to contamination during heavy rainfall events in agriculture areas. Edmondson said the AG’s investigation concluded the well water is a likely source of the E. coli outbreak since the health department

couldn’t find a source inside the kitchen. He said the only known source of E. coli was in the well. “Where did it come from?” Edmondson asked.

An AG report identified the well is a possible source, and it’s unlikely human waste contributed to the

E. coli in the well.

The report states a significant poultry population is raised within a 5-mile radius of the restaurant. The report shows 39 active poultry houses in a 5-mile area which produce between 5,000 to 7,000 tons of waste each year. The poultry waste is land applied within the vicinity of Country Cottage. The land is at a gradient which provides a pathway for bacterial transport. Also, a principal component analysis revealed a unique “chicken signature” at more than one location in water samples at and near Country Cottage.

The AG’s office concluded the likely source of the bacteria in the Country Cottage well is poultry waste, that the waste is a possible cause of the outbreak and the

specific strain, E. coli 0111, has been found in poultry waste.

“It is important to note most

bacteria that makes people have gastrointestinal illness is a result of animal waste,” said Bennett-Webb. But with E. coli 0111, the source tends to be cattle. “We’re not finding that strong of a link with poultry waste.”

The AG’s office recommended

the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF) place an immediate ban on the land application of poultry

waste in southern Mayes County. Edmondson said the ODAFF has opted not to issue a ban. An investigation is ongoing into possible well water contamination and other potential sources of E. coli 0111. Edmondson said his office seeks to keep the public informed on the findings of the investigation.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry will collect litter application records, soil and litter test results from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2008, from

specific application sites specified by the Attorney General’s office.

Residents with private wells who are interested in testing can call DEQ’s 24-hour hotline at

(800) 522-0206 by close of business, Monday, Feb. 16, to schedule an appointment.



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