Category Archives: Cattlegate
Part Two of Detroit Free Press– Living with PBB: Michigan Chemical plant dumped poisons, impacting town for years
It’s hard to believe that the PBB poisoning of the state of Michigan is still going on. Check out the second part of the series in today’s Detroit Free Press. Essentially they’re just now doing the environmental clean-up of the communities saturated with the PBB poison almost 40 years ago. The government continues to drag it’s feet in doing any sort of monitoring of the these contaminations. They basically turn their heads away intentionally from tracking the patterns of cancer epidemics in our culture which could be tracked back to this corporate exploitation of the environment and human health. What we don’t see won’t hurt us they seem to believe. If we just ignore the illnesses and refuse to track down their causes, then it’s just random bad luck if you happen to die of Acute Mylogenous Leukemia at the age of 55 as my sister Jan Burchman did seven years ago in Okemos, Michigan. I would urge you to read both of Robin Erb’s articles from the past two days in the Detroit Free Press (Living with PBB: Michigan Chemical plant dumped poisons, impacting town for years)
Also, check out the video at the top of her article by Eric Seale. Also, check out our trailer for our documentary, CATTLEGATE on our website, www.taoslandandfilm.com
Eventually, I still how to produce a fictional feature film based on many of the events surrounding the PBB poisoning of Michigan. My screenplay for this is entitled, TOO MANY DRUNK COWS.
Recently, I was interviewed by Robin Erb, a public health writer for the Detroit Free Press. She tracked me down through the miracle of the internet because of a documentary I produced a long, long time ago, entitled, CATTLEGATE which is about the PBB Poisoning in the State of Michigan back in the mid-1970s.
My connection to this poisoning is the fact that I grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan and my father, Dr. Ted F. Jackson, was a farm animal veterinarian at the time. He was the person to diagnose PBB as the contaminant in the farm feed and write the first technical article on the PBB Syndrome in contaminated cattle for the American Veterinary Medical (AVMA) Journal. I believe at the time this was the largest agricultural poisoning disaster in the history of the world. Now, I know that sounds a bit extreme, some may say I’m even over-stating it. But, I don’t think I am.
PBB started out as a huge off-the-wall mistake. Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB) were a newly invented synthetic chemical which was developed to be mixed into plastics to make them fire retardant for use in appliances and such. Coincidentally, at that same time period, dairy farm researchers had discovered that by mixing a magnesium oxide additive into cattle’s dairy feed, they could enhance milk production and fat content in cows. So, a dairy farmer could add this to his feed and essentially make more profit on his diary products. Yes, I know things have changed since then and we now abhor too much fat in our diets, but back then, the rich, creamy flavor of our ice cream was more important than our cholesterol counts.
So, the Michigan Chemical Company just happened to be the company that produced both PBB and Magnesium Oxide additive. Sadly, the two chemicals looked almost identical, white powdery substances. And they were both bagged in 50 pound white sacks. One was labeled “FireMaster” (PBB) and the other was labeled “NutraMaster”. And, apparently the Michigan Chemical Company shipped out the wrong chemical to the Farm Bureau’s main feed plant in Climax, Michigan. And, nobody seemed to catch the name difference. Admittedly they are similar names.
What happened was, PBB got mixed in the cattle feed and ultimately, almost the entire state of Michigan was contaminated. And, while the Detroit Free Press probably won’t say that the Michigan State Government covered up this disaster as a means of flushing the contaminated food products into the food chain, I will.
Now what my father found out through his studies of calves eating the contaminated feed was that PBB was carcinogenic, and genetically mutating on the animals and pretty much destroyed their immune systems, opening the poisoned animal up to an almost infinite variety of physical ailments. And, he found that PBB doesn’t flush out of the animal it gets into. It accumulates in the body fat (they call it ‘bio-accumulation’) and hence my father believed there was no safe level of PBB which could be allowed to go out into the human food chain. But, at the time this disaster began, the automobile industry was struggling, and if the government and the insurance companies took the financial hit of destroying every contaminated animal, they felt that the entire state of Michigan would go bankrupt.
So, the Michigan State Legislature set ‘acceptable’ levels of contamination in the cattle and dairy products. What this did was throw a profound moral dilemma back on the shoulders of the farmers. You see the farmers consumed their own meat and dairy products and they were seeing their families getting sick. But, the government was forcing them to sell their poisoned products to market and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to pay their FHA Farm Loans and they’d go bankrupt and out of business. It was a bad position to be in.
Eventually, they did destroy quite a few cattle, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. And now almost forty years later the DETROIT FREE PRESS is running a two day series of articles on the human health consequences today. I haven’t read the articles yet, but it should be interesting. Because the predictions forty years ago were that PBB would be haunting the human health population for many generations to come.
So, Sunday September 23, 2012 go to the Detroit Free Press website and see what is revealed. And, if you’d like to see a clip from my documentary, CATTLEGATE, go to our website, www.taoslandandfilm.com.
I’ll blog some more about this after I read the articles. They’ll also have some video up on the Detroit Free Press website from current interviews they did with people in Michigan.
Over the past several years I’ve received a number of direct email inquiries about purchasing copies of my films. I’ve also noticed the continued interest on YouTube and Google Video in some of my older accomplishments, such as Death & Taxes (the story of Gordon Kahl), my film adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People, Cattlegate (documentary on the Michigan PBB disaster), and The Pigs Vs. The Freaks. And I should also mention the relatively more recent Postal Worker, starring Brad Garrett (of Everybody Loves Raymond fame) which played on HBO. So I had my web design guy implement a nice straightforward shopping cart for the new site where people can now acquire the work as they wish. It’s brand new, so let us know if you have any problems. Everything is available on DVD, but I also have a limited supply of vintage VHS copies of some titles for the film collectors out there, brand new in the unopened packaging.
As an added touch, and for a nominal extra cost, I’ve decided to offer autographed certificates of authenticity as an option with each film, to guarantee a quality print from the original source file.
This is one of the important ways indy filmmakers like myself recoup the high costs of their craft and help make future films possible. So I hope you’ll stop by and have a look around at the exciting new projects that are in pre and post-production, and maybe even purchase a film or two.