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Flame retardant chemical accident 40 years ago is still damaging people's health today

Flame retardant

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(NaturalNews) More than 40 years ago, a Michigan chemical company made a careless mistake that would affect people's lives for generations to come. The incident involved polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB, a man-made flame retardant designed to prevent plastics from burning.

An excerpt from Joyce Egginton's book titled The Poisoning of Michigan describes what happened:

In the late spring of 1973 a truck driver known as Shorty made a routine delivery from Michigan Chemical Corporation to Farm Bureau Services, which operated the largest agricultural feed plant in Michigan. Shorty's truck carried about a ton of a crumbly whitish substance which was packed in fifty-pound brown paper sacks and described on the inventory as Nutrimaster, a new trade name for magnesium oxide. An innocuous alkaline, magnesium oxide was a recent discovery of the dairy industry; mixed into feed, it helped a cow's digestion and thereby increased her milk supply...

Michigan Chemical Corporation also manufactured the flame retardant Firemaster, which closely resembled Nutrimaster.

But while Nutrimaster was harmless, Firemaster was highly toxic. Someone at the chemical company confused the two; Shorty took the wrong bags to the feed plant, and no one there noticed the mistake. PBB was mixed into several large batches of cattle feed which was sold to farmers throughout Michigan. The results were devastating. Tens of thousands of farm animals became deathly ill. Milk production fell. Calves died in their barns. Cows aborted. Lambs were born with gross deformities. Chickens developed strange tremors... and no one could understand why.

An entire year would pass before anyone realized the mistake, but by then more than 500 Michigan farms were contaminated. Thousands of cattle, pigs and sheep were destroyed, along with 1.5 million chickens. Scientists are still learning how many people were affected.

PBB disrupts endocrine system in animals, and is likely carcinogenic

One woman, who was just seven-years-old when the mix-up occurred, has suffered 10 miscarriages and four ectopic pregnancies, a condition where the baby develops outside of the uterus.

Until recently, Jane-Ann Nyerges thought something wrong with her, that perhaps she was born barren, unable to ever have children. However, thanks to a team of scientists from Emory University, Nyerges now understands that she wasn't born with complications.

Nyerges grew up on a farm, eating contaminated beef, chicken and eggs for at least one year.

"I have had ten miscarriages and four ectopic pregnancies over my adult life. Fortunately, I was able to have one child during that time, and she is a complete blessing to me, but my youngest sister is completely barren, never able to even get pregnant," said Nyerges, who still has high levels of PBB in her system.

"It's like closure for me. To say, okay, it's not that I was not able to carry a child because there was something wrong with the way I was designed physically, but because of the impacts of the PBB. And that gives me a sense of peace."

Researchers suspect that there are many others like Nyerges but need more funding to continue their study. So far, 850 Michiganders have been tested, with 85 percent still exhibiting high levels of PBB.

"The most striking findings we have are that people who were exposed during what we call critical periods of development, that is, if they were exposed in the womb because their mother had high levels of PBB or if they were exposed in early childhood, that the development of the endocrine system may be affected," said Michele Marcus, professor of epidemiology, environmental health and pediatrics at Emory University Schools of Public Health and Medicine.

"We're trying to understand why the PBB does seem to be having such long-lasting effects," said Marcus. "We do have some preliminary evidence that PBB may affect the expression of genes on the DNA and that can be transmitted down the generations."

If you're interested in participating in the study, click here.

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