DDT still poisons people and wildlife in Michigan 40 years after being banned

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(NaturalNews) A pesticide manufacturing plant responsible for one of the worst chemical disasters in history is still poisoning humans and wildlife in St. Louis, Michigan, despite it being shut down since the 1960s.

St. Louis, located within Gratiot County, is home to about 7,500 residents. The picturesque town is a classic example of Middle America and is home to the historic Magnetic Mineral Springs. Discovered in the late 19th century, the springs put the town on the map, transforming it into a destination hotspot for those seeking healing from the local mineral-rich water.

Town formerly known for mineral-rich healing water is now site of DDT contamination

Unfortunately, just a few decades later, Velsicol Chemical Corp., formerly known as Michigan Chemical, opened and began producing various pesticides including DDT, an extremely poisonous compound that's been banned for use in the United States for over 40 years.

The 54-acre plant was forced to close its doors following the revolutionary book Silent Spring, authored by Rachel Carson, which highlighted the hazardous effects of toxic chemicals like DDT, particularly in birds.

Velsicol was the sole manufacturer of two pesticides prominently featured in Silent Spring, which subsequently led to an outright ban on the chemicals, forcing the plant's closure.

The plant also produced polybrominated biphenyls, or PBBs, a chemical flame retardant that became mixed up with cattle feed in 1973, leading to the poisoning of thousands of cattle and other livestock. More than 500 farms were quarantined, and residents across the state were exposed to the PBBs, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive complications and endocrine disruption.

The site is now one of the costliest superfund sites in America, and arguably one of the most deadly. In 1982, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took control of the site, demolishing the plant in the late 1990s; however, a thorough cleanup has not been performed, leaving the areas that are much dependent on the Pine River completely contaminated. To this day, fishing is still banned in the river.

The most common complaint heard from St. Louis residents regarding the superfund site is the unsightly death of the area's beautiful song-singing birds. "It's like they are having a convulsion, and then they're dead," said Jim Vyskocil, a St. Louis resident who admits that he's watched robins fall from the sky and flop around until their death for many years now.

Matt Zwiernik, an environmental toxicologist with Michigan State University, collected 29 dead birds last year from a nine-block residential area near the superfund site, conducting a forensic study of bird carcasses.

His results were alarming.

Brain and liver abnormalities were found in 12 of the 29 birds. The mean total level of DDT or DDE (a breakdown component of DDT) in the bird's brains was 552 parts per million, some of the highest concentrations ever recorded in wild birds, according to Zwiernik.

100 percent of the dead birds contained extremely high levels of DDT

Scientists confirm that just 30 parts per million of DDT can be fatal to a variety of bird species.

"The local residents, they are not surprised; they know what's going on. They've seen it for 20 years," said Zwiernik. "I think it's the rest of the world that's shocked that there's a situation in this day and age where a larger portion of the city has such contamination that birds are falling from the sky."

The Detroit Free Press reports that the birds' sudden death is reportedly due to ingesting contaminated worms, grubs and insects poisoned by DDT in the area's soil.

The EPA, which is now in control of the site, is working over the next two years to remove contaminated soil up to four feet deep from nearly 100 residential yards near the site. Around 30,000 tons of soil is expected to be removed by the summer's end.

Following its bankruptcy, Velsicol only provided $20 million toward its cleanup; however, the scope of the damage is closer to half a billion dollars.

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