Similarities between the Firemaster disaster and the DES debacle

When Profits and Reputation are at Stake, Human Health Loses

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Between 1940 and about 1980, millions of pregnant women were given high doses of the artificial estrogen DES in a misguided attempt to prevent miscarriages, a drug that’s been shown to cause female development in biological males across a wide range of animal species.

While both the mothers given the drug and their daughters who were exposed in the womb are acknowledged to suffer from high rates of cancer, infertility and a range of other health problems as a result of their exposure, the official line has always been that the “DES sons” came through their exposure virtually unscathed. Everything I’ve seen over the last several years points to a colossal intersex disaster having taken place with DES that resulted in several million biologically males being born who have partially developed as female instead of male; a disaster that has been covered up and kept completely hidden from the public ever since. It sounds like the stuff of fiction, and you might think it impossible that those in authority would even attempt to hide a disaster on that scale (let alone get away with it). Nonetheless, there is actually a precedent for such a thing happening. Around the same time the DES disaster came to light, Michigan’s Firemaster disaster was well underway. What does the Michigan Firemaster disaster have to do with DES? It’s a textbook example of how corporations and governmental entities put profits over human health.

Cattlegate and the Michigan Chemical Corporation Cover-Up

The Michigan Chemical Corporation (MCC) manufactured nutrient supplements for use in cattle feed. Among its products were Nutrimaster, a nutrient supplement intended for use in cattle feed, and Firemaster, a highly toxic polybrominated biphenyl flame retardant. MCC had a system where each product was safely packaged in color-coded sacks, so there were no chances of mistakes being made. The system worked well until early 1973, when an inventory supply problem led to a temporary shortage of color coded sacks, and plain sacks had to be used instead. By coincidence, a new formulation of Firemaster was being trialed at the same time, and this new formulation was almost identical to Nutrimaster in appearance. Murphy’s law came into full effect, and a truckload of the reformulated Firemaster was inadvertently delivered to Michigan’s largest cattle and poultry feed manufacturer. By the time the mistake was discovered, poisoned animal feed had already been distributed to farmers statewide and had been fed to their livestock. Rather than own up to what happened, have the contaminated feed recalled and the poisoned animals slaughtered and safely disposed of, the state authorities attempted a cover up instead. They nearly got away with it too. Had it not been for one farmer, whose cattle had been poisoned taking it upon himself to have feed samples analysed by a laboratory outside the state, the disaster  would have never come to light. By that time, more than a year had passed, and most of the contaminated produce had already been sold and eaten.

There was a documentary made about the disaster, and the trailer for it can be viewed online.

Cattlegate looks like something out of a bad B-grade science fiction movie, but this is a real disaster that resulted in grossly deformed and heavily contaminated cattle and poultry being certified as safe, and basically the entire population of the state of Michigan being poisoned with polybrominated biphenyl (PBB). PBB is a highly toxic endocrine disrupting chemical, which dissolves in fat and persists in the human body for decades.

Over the course of my research, I found an article on the Great Lakes Echo which had over a hundred comments from people caught up in the disaster, many of whom have gone on to develop thyroid disorders and other health problems. At some point, after July 2013, the comments section of that article has been replaced with Disqus, and all the comments have vanished.

Luckily, I took a snapshot of the article as it was on 30 July 2013, before the comments were removed: The Poisoning of Michigan.

Here is a comment from “Chris” dated 4 June 2010, which shows just how far the state authorities went to cover up what had happened:

“I am a bit disappointed by the tone of this article. Saying the state of Michigan was unprepared and responded slowly to this incident is like saying the Holocaust was a misunderstanding. I lived in Big Rapids during those years and worked for a doctor whose patients were largely farm families, many of whom dealt with PBB contamination on their farms. We watched our patients deal with pain, anger, frustration and fear. They were lied to, bullied, threatened….and so were we because we had the medical records and did the testing to support their claims. It was a frightening and terrible period in Michigan history as, initially, they tried to cover it up. The doctor I worked for had two german shepard dogs and lived in the country. The dogs went missing and he received a 3am call on his private line telling him his children would be next if he testified in Washington, DC. (he sent his children to live with relatives out west for the summer) The office was ransacked in the middle of the night, not for drugs but for patient files (he kept them in a secret place). Blood tests for PBB levels came back negative from Michigan labs, until they were informed we took two samples and sent the other one to California and received positive results from them. (After that the samples matched)The local police would escort him where ever he went until after the hearings in DC.

After all these years, reading this article, bringing it all back, I still cry. I won’t even go into the illnesses we saw in our patients. Farm animals were not the only ones who aborted, and died very young, and wasted away from liver failure. These people ate the meat they raised and drank the milk from their cows. They were primary recipients of the contamination.

I remember one woman who raised chickens. Their feathers were falling out, they could not stand on their own legs, and she was selling them to a large company for human consumption. She cried as she told me she knew the chickens were bad, even though they passed inspection and every government agency told her there was nothing wrong with them, but she had to sell them because the bills were piling up, they were out of money and would loose their business and home if she didn’t. Another man, suddenly incapacitated by arthritic symptoms and liver damage, was told that if he signed a form promising to never sue Farm Bureau for his illnesses, they would send him to another doctor who would guaranty him disability payments for life.”

Our Long History of Cover ups: The DES Debacle

Michigan had a population of about 10 million at the time of the disaster, which is similar to the number of people (mothers, daughters and sons) within the US who were affected by DES (which is my area of interest, and is what led me to the Michigan story).

It’s estimated there could be as many as 5 million DES sons worldwide. Going on what I have seen, probably around a third of these people were born with visible intersex-related genital abnormalities, a fairly similar percentage have gone on to develop hypogonadism, and the one study of gender identity in DES sons that’s ever been conducted found that 150 out of 500 identified as women. DES is a substance that has been shown to cause female development in biological males in a wide range of birds and mammals, and it looks like it does the same in human beings. How do you think the authorities were ever going to react on discovering that they had inadvertently created several million biologically male people who’ve partly developed as female?

Partly as a result of the Firemaster disaster, the chemical industry has gone a long way towards cleaning up its act in the decades since. PBB was banned shortly after the facts of what had happened in Michigan came to light, followed by PCBs, DDT and most other highly persistent endocrine disrupting chemicals. Regulations were developed to protect us from chemicals, and what we’re exposed to in out food and drink. Many of those regulations are no longer enforced and in some cases have been dismantled entirely. I can only imagine what new disasters await. If the DES and Firemaster disasters tell us anything, it is that when profits and reputation are stake, human health is unimportant.

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This article was published originally in January 2018. 


1 Comment

  1. The proverbial tip of the iceberg. DES, nuclear winds, hormone disrupting plastics, vaccines, insecticides, GMOs, etc. And we are now in a time of Ag-gag laws are in the news around animal cruelty cases, but we are in what Will Potter calls, Green as the New Red.

    Like communist witch hunts by McCarthy, today for profit felons and their felonious associations like the Cattleman’s Association and the entire alphabet soup groups that are bribe-minded lobbying organizations are going after people — researchers, scientists, citizens — who would dare expose the massive environmental pollution and human harm these industries have promulgated.

    Call it the Cheeseburger bill or food disparagement laws. I brought Howard Lyman to my college as a faculty member. Remember him? Sued along with Oprah Winfrey for talking about “mad cow disease and our meat industry?

    Twenty-two years ago:

    Look, when a society — the entire Trumpland and Obamaland — can tolerate children, adults and the aged to be poisoned by lead in Michigan, and no heads rolled, and no trial for the governor, well, we are in a time of corporations ruling us all through their henchmen and henchwomen: politicians for sale. When we allow, now under the current administration (sic), offshore oil platforms to reduce blowout safety, well, we are in a time of insanity.

    We’ve allowed education to teach our children how to NOT think critically, and how NOT to become participants in democracy. We are in a time when a bad TV reality show host is leader (sic) of the free (sic) world. The Rock and Facebook’s Zuckerberg are now putting their toes into the 2020 presidential run up. Whew!

    DES is the tip of a continental iceberg of people, animals, land being toxified! Our famed nuclear tests?


    New research suggests that the hidden cost of developing nuclear weapons were far larger than previous estimates, with radioactive fallout responsible for 340,000 to 690,000 American deaths from 1951 to 1973.

    The study, performed by University of Arizona economist Keith Meyers, uses a novel method (pdf) to trace the deadly effects of this radiation, which was often consumed by Americans drinking milk far from the site of atomic tests.

    From 1951 to 1963, the US tested nuclear weapons above ground in Nevada. Weapons researchers, not understanding the risks—or simply ignoring them—exposed thousands of workers to radioactive fallout. The emissions from nuclear reactions are deadly to humans in high doses, and can cause cancer even in low doses. At one point, researchers had volunteers stand underneath an airburst nuclear weapon to prove how safe it was. –end quote—

    My own life here in the Pacific Northwest intersects with that big lie — a little radioactive fallout is good for you:

    I won a first place for these stories, but, alas, I am wondering exactly how effective any amount of written commentary/investigative journalism or documentary film recording the crimes of the capitalists and chemical purveyors and punishment profiteers, et al, really does to change people?

    I remember the 2011 Academy Awards given out to Charles Ferguson for his documentary, Inside Job. While he attempted to say something at the microphone, like, “Not one economist who was part of this economic meltdown has lost his or her job,” the band struck up loudly and Oprah Winfrey scuttled him off stage.

    Quote: Charles Ferguson’s “Inside Job” is the first film to expose the shocking truth behind the economic crisis of 2008. The global financial meltdown, at a cost of over $20 trillion, resulted in millions of people losing their homes and jobs. Through extensive research and interviews with major financial insiders, politicians and journalists, “Inside Job” traces the rise of a rogue industry and unveils the corrosive relationships which have corrupted politics, regulation and academia. — end quote–

    Very few people I know saw the movie, and alas, we are in 2018 which is a time of economic cholera — the rich steal more and the middle class and poor class and working class lose it all.

    There are no new disasters about to unfold. They are here, man! I hate to be a harbinger of bad news, and it’s difficult being in this role because Americans, I find, want to see a silver cloud and touched by an angel in all things. But we need more critical thinking and more exposing of the crimes of the few onto the masses, us, the people!

    Example of this time of environmental cholera:

    Pollinators dying, and they account for 75 percent of all food grown — i.e. pollinated? Do we have a massive movement to ban the culprits of bees’ colony collapse?

    Quote: How fungicides kill bees is now being studied, but is likely to be by making them more susceptible to the deadly nosema parasite or by exacerbating the toxicity of other pesticides.

    The widespread decline in bees and other pollinators is worrying because they fertilize about 75% of all food crops, with half of pollination being done by wild species. Pesticides, habitat destruction, disease and climate change have all been implicated in bee declines, but relatively little research has been done on the complex question of which factors cause the most damage. — end quote —

    So what kind of species are capitalists who would create chemicals that poison air, water, soil, and the entire food web? The DES scandal is one in a million, some of which have been documented with little mitigation or remediation; most not exposed in any sense of the word through the mainstream or side stream press.

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