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For 40 years, researchers have studied flame retardant's effect on human health after accidental exposure

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For 40 years, researchers have studied flame retardant's effect on human health after accidental exposure

Picture of Valerie Lego

Valerie Lego produced this documentary for WZZM TV 13 (ABC) in Grand Rapids, Michigan as a 2012 National Health Journalism Fellow.

Friday, January 18, 2013

In 1973, it was discovered that Michigan Chemical had accidentally used the flame retardant chemical PBB instead of a vitamin additive for cattle feed.

That contaminated feed was then fed to cattle, pigs, and chickens throughout Michigan. It's estimated that nine out of 10 Michiganders consumed contaminated meat, dairy, or poultry during the two years it took to discover the human error.

For the past 40 years, the Michigan Department of Community Health and now Emory University have been involved in studying the effects that consumption of PBB-contaminated food has had on human health. Research found an increase in breast cancer, thyroid disease, and early puberty in girls, as well as infertility in women born to mothers who consumed the PBB-contaminated food. Phase II of the research is now looking at additional cancers, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and fertility problems in males born to mothers who consumed the PBB-contaminated food. 

To this day, it remains the largest study of human chemical contamination in the world. This documentary was broadcast in December 2012.