FAQs about the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study and Emory University's PBB study

What was the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study?

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.

Scientists didn’t know what health problems could occur in the people who had eaten meat or eggs, or drank milk contaminated with PBBs. After receiving reports of disease and death in cattle exposed to PBBs, the Michigan Department of Public Health (now called the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ((MDHHS)) started a study to measure people’s blood levels of PBBs and observe them for short-term health effects. However, the long-term health impacts of people’s PBB exposure were unknown. That’s why, starting in 1976, MDHHS, along with federal partners in the U.S. Public Health Service, signed up over 4,000 farmers, chemical workers, and others with known PBB exposure to be a part of the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study. Children born to women in the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study were also enrolled.

The Michigan Long-Term PBB study’s plan was to measure the levels of PBBs in people’s blood over time, identify any long-term health problems that may be related, and provide them with information on study developments.

In 2004, after decades of data had been collected by MDHHS and reports written detailing the findings, federal funding to MDHHS for this effort stopped and the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study ended. Please see The History of PBBs in Michigan for more details.

Who was included in the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study?

MDHHS worked with federal partners in the U.S. Public Health Service to enroll and follow a group of over 4,000 people starting in 1976. These people were mostly farm families and neighbors—including their children—who ate the most contaminated products. Workers at the St. Louis factory that made PBBs were also enrolled along with their families. Children born after 1976 to women in the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study were also enrolled. Please see The History of PBBs in Michigan for more details on who was included in this study.

What is the Emory University PBB study?

From the mid-1990s until 2009, MDHHS worked with Dr. Michele Marcus from Emory University on research involving members of the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study, resulting in many scientific publications. When MDHHS discontinued its PBB research in 2009, Dr. Marcus and many Long-Term PBB Study members wished to continue PBB research. For that reason, MDHHS is helping Emory University form their PBB study. Emory’s study includes a wider range of people than just those who were part of the MDHHS’ Michigan Long-Term PBB Study.

To find out about joining Emory University’s PBB study, contact Dr. Marcus at pbbregistry@emory.edu or call 888-892-0074. You can learn more about Emory University’s past and current PBB research work by visiting their website: http://pbbregistry.emory.edu.

How do I know if I could have been exposed to PBBs?

While everyone might have some level of PBBs in their body because of how commonly they were used prior to 1976, your risk of exposure was increased if you:

  • Lived or worked on a farm in Michigan in 1973-1974.
  • Ate PBB-contaminated beef, pork, lamb, chicken, dairy products, or eggs during 1973-1974 from Michigan farms.
  • Worked for the Michigan Chemical Company (also known as Velsicol Chemical Company) at their factory in St. Louis Michigan, were the spouse or child of a factory worker, or lived near that factory.

Blood test vials

The only way to know for sure is to have a laboratory test for PBBs in your blood. There are tests that can measure PBBs in blood, body fat, and breast milk. Although PBBs are a chemical mixture, most tests just measure one chemical, PBB-153. These tests can tell whether you have been exposed to PBBs, but cannot tell the exact amount or type of commercial mixture that you were exposed to (Sjödin et al. 2008). These tests cannot tell whether any health problems you have now or in the future are due to any PBB exposure. These tests are not usually available at the  doctor’s office, but samples can be sent to laboratories that have the necessary equipment. MDHHS Bureau of Laboratories no longer provides PBB testing; however, Emory University may provide testing.

How do I know if I’m included in Emory University’s PBB study? Can I still sign up for this study?

All original participants of the MDHHS Michigan Long-Term PBB Study, their children, and grandchildren are invited to be a part of Emory University’s PBB study. Others who lived in Michigan during the 1970s PBB incident may also be eligible to join the Emory University PBB study.

If you were part of the Michigan Long-Term PBB study run by MDHHS and wish to participate in Emory University’s PBB study, you must go to the Emory University website to fill out a Transfer Your PBB Records form. By doing this, you give MDHHS permission to transfer your records to Emory University. Additional information about Emory’s PBB study can be found on their study website.

To request the records from MDHHS of a deceased immediate family member’s participation in the Michigan PBB Long-Term Study, please fill out the MDHHS Michigan Long-Term PBB Study Next of Kin Request for Transfer of Records form.

If you are unsure if you are already included in the Study or if you’d like to see if you qualify, please call Emory University at 1-888-892-0074 or email pbbregistry@emory.edu.

I heard that even if I was part of the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study, I must sign up again for the Emory University PBB study. Is this true?

Yes, it is true. In 2004, after decades of data had been collected by MDHHS and reports written detailing the findings, federal funding for the Michigan Long-Term PBB Study was stopped and the MDHHS study was closed. Because of privacy rules, if you want to join Emory’s PBB study you have to give MDHHS permission to transfer your PBB records to Emory University. This process is done through our partner at the Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI).

Can I request a deceased immediate relative’s record from the MDHHS Long-Term PBB Study?

Yes, if you are the next of kin of a deceased member of the MDHHS Long-Term PBB Study. The next of kin should submit a request for the deceased’s records by completing the MDHHS Michigan Long-Term PBB Study Next of Kin Request for Transfer of Records form. Instructions for completing and submitting this form are on the back side of the form itself. Once MDHHS receives the form and necessary documentation, any existing records of the deceased will be mailed to the requestor.

Can I request a deceased immediate relative’s record at MDHHS to be transferred directly to Emory University’s PBB study?

No, because of privacy rules MDHHS may only send records to next of kin. The next of kin must submit a MDHHS Michigan Long-Term PBB Study Next of Kin Request for Transfer of Records form. Once MDHHS receives the form and necessary documentation, any existing records of the deceased will be mailed to the requestor. The requestor is free to share them with whomever they wish, including Emory University.