More local PBB testing to be done

Dr. Michele Marcus, seen here talking to Norm Keon, a member of the Pine River Superfund Citizens Task Force in 2014, heads the team from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. that conducted blood tests on several hundred Gratiot County residents in 2013 and 2014. Now that funding has been secured they will return for more testing sometime this summer. (Herald photo – Nelson)

by Greg Nelson
Herald Editor
More PBB testing on Gratiot County residents will take place again this year.
Although the grant researchers from the Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Ga. received from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science wasn’t as large as expected it will be enough to continue the ongoing study, Pine River Superfund Citizens Task Force Secretary Jane Keon said.
“NIEHS did an across the board cut of all grants by 20 percent to be able to fund a few more projects,” she explained. “Even with the cuts, studies are expected to begin this summer.”
The task force, members of the Emory research team, Mid-Michigan District Health Department officials and the PBB Advisory, comprised of farm families, met recently to discuss other possible funding sources, Keon said.
“They will need to test 500 individuals to get 100 for their experimental work to see if a certain substance, when ingested, can speed elimination of PBB and DDT from the body,” she explained.
The group will also be looking for 20 three generational families for an epigenetic study “in which the first generation male was exposed and the female was not, and an experimental method of aiding the body in excreting PBB and DDT,” Keon noted.
“The experiment has worked with animals,” she said. “About 100 people with very high levels of PBB in their blood are needed for this study. I expect most of them will come from former chemical (plant) plant workers and their families.”
“We already know that exposed mothers can pass it to their babies through gestation in the womb and breast feeding.”
Emory University researchers have already been to Gratiot County twice to conduct free PBB screenings – in March 2013 in St. Louis and April 2014 at the Mid-Michigan District Health Department in Ithaca.
A total of about 500 people were tested during those visits.
Most of those who took part signed up to become part of the university’s PBB registry.
In addition, 46 men and 38 women volunteered to be part of a reproductive study that is also being conducted.
PBB exposure can affect the endocrine, immune and reproductive systems, and adversely impact liver function.
It can also cause skin rashes, hair loss, memory loss, and joint problems, among other health-related issues.
Initial results from the earlier blood samples taken showed that the median level of PBB in people’s bloodstreams in this area was higher than that of the general population in other parts of the United States.
However, “a major lab problem occurred” during that investigation and testing had to start all over from scratch, Keon said.
“Luckily they drew plenty of blood from us and had plenty to work with,” she added.
Analysis of the blood samples taken showed that former chemical plant workers “were by far the most highly contaminated,” Keon said.
Next were not the farm families as expected but families of the chemical workers. Third were people who lived in St. Louis during the time of the chemical production, fourth were farm families and fifth were other state residents.”
Anyone interested in taking part in a future study can call Emory University at 888-892-0047 or send an email to
Those who would like more information or sign up for the PBB registry can go online to