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40 years later, chemical mistake still affects Michigan residents

Dec 16, 2014

The Nyerges family on the Crowley farm
Credit Courtesy of Jane-Ann Nyerges

It's been over 40 years since the Michigan Chemical Corporation/Velsicol made a catastrophic mistake that affected millions of Michigan residents.

The company from St. Louis, Michigan, shipped a toxic flame retardant chemical to the Farm Bureau Service instead of a nutritional supplement. That chemical was PBB or polybrominated biphenyl.

PBB was mixed into livestock feed, but it took a year to discover the accident. Millions of consumers ate contaminated milk, meat, and eggs during this time.

Jane-Ann Nyerges was one of the farming families whose lives were changed after the PBB contamination.

Nyerges was around seven when livestock started to show signs of contamination and her family's farm was quarantined. Much of their livestock had to be killed, and with it their source of income disappeared.

The Nyerges Family was told that the PBB would be out of their bodies in 10 years, but many lasting effects have remained, including fertility issues in many of the female members of their family.

"I personally had 10 miscarriages and four ectopic pregnancies," Nyerges says.

The summer after the contamination was discovered was the start of seizures for Nyerges, along with cysts from the skin disease hidradenitis suppurativa, which over half of her siblings also developed.

Emory University has continued the study of PBB contaminated families, but Nyerges says their funding is used only for fertility research.

"I have learned so much in a very short time period about the history, the extent of the contamination, and what Emory was looking to do for the people involved that I had no idea of prior," Nyerges says.

Nyerges says that many families who experienced PBB contamination are unwilling to cooperate because of anger over the situation, but she believes that their registration could help all of those involved.