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Poultry Lawyers Urge Judge To Scratch Expert

Published on 5 April, 2006, Last updated at 01:53 GMT

5th Apr, 2006: FAYETTEVILLE - Fresh off Monday's success, lawyers representing the poultry industry took aim Tuesday at eliminating another expert witness from a pending lawsuit.

The expert is designated to testify that exposure to arsenic from the spreading of chicken litter is causing cancer in Prairie Grove.

Rod O'Connor, a chemist and retired professor of environmental studies at Baylor University, is the plaintiffs' star witness in the case. He's expected to testify that the poultry feed additive Roxarsone turns into a toxic form of arsenic as it degrades in chicken litter. The arsenic is then transported through the air to area homes after the litter is spread on fields as fertilizer, he is expected to say.

O'Connor claims his sampling of dust from houses and schools in Prairie Grove shows an arsenic "fingerprint" that matches that of chicken litter.

Lawyers for the chicken companies are trying to convince Washington County Circuit Judge Kim Smith to exclude O'Connor's testimony from the trial. They were able to get the testimony of Arthur Fisk, a psychologist, excluded Monday.

Robert George, an attorney for Tyson Foods, led the assault on O'Connor on Tuesday, saying the data O'Connor used is so flawed it can't be used to form scientific opinions. The results were biased to show high levels of arsenic, he said.

Further, George argued that O'Connor simply left out of his calculations those samples that didn't show measurable amounts of arsenic.

"These numbers are all absurdly skewed," George said.

He said O'Connor tested only dust samples and failed to take air samples or biological samples, such as hair and blood, and did no modeling work for the case. He also didn't account for background levels of arsenic that occur naturally in the soil, George said.

Clayton Davis, who represents families who sued area poultry companies more than two years ago claiming a link between chicken litter, cancer rates and other health problems, said O'Connor's findings show vividly what is happening in Prairie Grove because 30 of 31 homes tested showed at least traces of Roxarsone. The only source of Roxarsone is chicken feed, he said.

Smith will continue hearing arguments about O'Connor today. More hearings are set to decide which designated expert witnesses will be allowed to testify.

The defendant companies include Alpharma, Alpharma Animal Health, Cal-Maine Farms, Cargill, George's, Peterson, Simmons and Tyson Foods.

The first case is set for trial in September.


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