Poly-brominated biphenyls (PBBs) in Michigan
Polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) are man-made chemicals commonly used as a fire retardant in plastic products before they were banned in the United States in 1976. However, since PBBs don’t break down quickly in nature, they have stayed in our environment for decades. PBBs can build up in people who are exposed and remain there for many years, as well.
In the early 1970s, thousands of Michigan residents were exposed to polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs). This happened after a factory in St. Louis, Michigan that made PBBs accidently shipped the chemicals instead of an animal feed supplement to feed mills across the state. This mix-up resulted in many thousands of animals eating PBBs in their feed. The PBBs were passed along to people when they ate meat or eggs or drank milk from these animals. Many of the factory workers were exposed to PBBs through their work, too. It was later discovered that PBBs could also be passed along to babies of exposed mothers while in the womb or through their breast milk.
Since the mix-up in the 1970s, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) responded by studying Michigan residents who were directly exposed to PBBs for both short- and long-term health impacts. Over time, these studies on PBBs have continued. During the early 2000s, active studies about exposure to PBBs shifted to Emory University. Emory University developed its own study on people exposed to PBBs based on the work done by MDHHS.