Processing Magazine

Wells near Oklahoma E. coli outbreak test positive

February 26, 2009
State officials in Oklahoma announced that seventeen private water wells have tested positive for E. coli bacteria near a northeastern Oklahoma town where an E. coli outbreak last summer killed one man and sickened hundreds, according to the Associated Press. The Department of Environmental Quality said additional testing is needed to determine whether the bacteria in the wells is the rare E. coli O111 strain involved in the August outbreak. Health officials have said a restaurant called the Country Cottage was the source of the outbreak in Locust Grove, but Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson said this month that it could have been the result of contamination from nearby poultry farms. The DEQ tested a total of 74 wells in the area in response to Edmondson''s comments. Seventeen of them showed E. coli, which is typically associated with human or animal waste. A DEQ spokeswoman said that residents with wells that tested positive were advised to disinfect their wells using a household bleach treatment before drinking their water. Edmondson released a report on Feb. 13 concluding that the well at the Country Cottage "is, and has been, contaminated with poultry waste and associated bacteria, including E. coli." His report also noted that there are 49 poultry houses within a six-mile radius of Locust Grove that have the capacity to produce 10,000 tons of waste a year. It also states there are insufficient pastures to dispose of all the waste near the houses. Edmondson sued 13 Arkansas poultry companies in 2005, claiming that the excessive land application of chicken waste in the 1 million-acre Illinois River watershed could be a danger to public health. Companies named in that complaint include Tyson Foods Inc., 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. The pollution trial will begin in September.