Sunday, September 23, 2012

Decades later, PBB contamination suspected in illnesses and deaths

"Lori Morris doesn't have a thyroid; her sister's esophagus was removed years ago.  Three out of four of Hilda Green's grown children are gone, each plagued with health problems and one dead at 50 of leukemia.  Jim Buchanan has a litany of health problems that began in his early 30s -- arthritis, gout, irregular heartbeats. Diabetes claimed his daughter at 24. At 63, he's waiting for a heart transplant.  They don't know one another. They live in different parts of the state.  But each suspects the same three-letter toxin: PBB.  "I know there's not proof or nothing, and maybe there never will be," said Morris, 55, a Garden City resident who works in sales. Her thyroid, doctors told her, was gone by the time she was 18. "But we were healthy -- perfectly healthy -- until that PBB mess."  It has been four decades since one of the most catastrophic agricultural disasters in U.S. history unfolded in the heart of Michigan, forcing the destruction of tens of thousands of cattle contaminated with polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB, and allowing the chemical to slip onto the dinner plates and into the drinking glasses of nine out of 10 Michiganders."

Information from the Michigan Department of Health on what PBB is and how it got into the feed:

What happened in Michigan in 1973?
"In early 1973, both PBB (sold under the trade name FireMaster) and magnesium oxide (a cattle feed supplement sold under the trade name NutriMaster) were produced at the same St. Louis, Michigan plant by the Michigan Chemical Company. A shortage of preprinted paper bag containers led to 10 to 20 fiftypound bags of PBB accidentally being sent to Michigan Farm Bureau Services in place of NutriMaster.  This accident was not recognized until long after the bags had been shipped to feed mills and used in the production of feed for dairy cattle. By the time the mix-up was discovered in April 1974, PBB had entered the food chain through milk and other dairy products, beef products, and contaminated swine, sheep, chickens and eggs. As a result of this incident, over 500 contaminated Michigan farms were quarantined, and approximately 30,000 cattle, 4,500 swine, 1,500 sheep, and 1.5 million chickens were destroyed, along with over 800 tons of animal feed, 18,000 pounds of cheese, 2,500 pounds of butter, 5 million eggs, and 34,000 pounds of dried milk products." 

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