Almost 40 years later, fallout from Mich. contamination disaster continues

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Four decades after polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), a dense, flame-retardant toxin, was accidentally dumped into a Michigan cattle feed supplement, Detroit Free Press reporter Robin Erb looks into the aftermath of what she calls “one of the most catastrophic agricultural disasters in U.S. history.”

Today, despite decades of cleanup efforts, the contamination lives on in the sites of mass burials of livestock who were exposed to the toxin and thus slaughtered and, as Erb writes in the second part of the series, in the massive superfund site that has grown up around the property of the company responsible for the fatal mixup in the first place. The exact scope of the disaster is unknown, even now, but PBB appears to have contaminated soil and water supplies, and poisoned animals across the state.

With the series, Erb first discusses the effects of PBB and related chemicals, then goes a step further and investigates exactly why clean-up efforts have failed. In a sidebar, she explains the complexity of reporting on the health effects of contamination, perhaps best expressed in this quote:

“That’s environmental epidemiology for you. There are limitations in the science,” said Lorraine Cameron, an epidemiologist in charge of the Michigan Department of Public Health’s long-term health study of about 4,000 Michiganders who were acutely exposed to PBB.

Erb uses anecdotes and, where possible, statistics, and highlights past mistakes as well as current efforts. In the process, she also proves that, especially where environmental contamination and long-term health issues are concerned, it’s never too late for a follow-up story.

1 thought on “Almost 40 years later, fallout from Mich. contamination disaster continues

  1. Laurel Russell

    Deviation is an understatement in decade after decade. I remember the mass grave shootings. I have always wondered how they managed to sweep it under the table that the contaminated feed was only distributed in that area??? Come on folks lets be real here we ALL know it was shipped out nationwide, and more than JUST Michigan was contaminated. It is all about the all mighty Buck! You can NOT tell me this has not already been thought about and someone in the ” right position had it felt with”!
    I am a Christian like most farmers and ranchers across this beautiful great nation. I would slaughter my heard just the same to stop contamination from spreading. The only thing I would do different is burn the flesh instead of burying it so it would not contaminate the water aquifer years later. Hind sight is 20/20 and everyone’s paying for the higher up’s cover up’s now aren’t they, and their children, their grand children, and probably their grand children’s great great great great great great great grandchildren. And who will tell them who covered what up when dairy farms don’t exist any longer???

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