On May 18-20, Alma College will be hosting a conference in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the PBB disaster that affected much of Michigan. The conference will include a variety of ways to interact and learn about the incident and the impact on the surrounding communities.
The main contributors to the conference are Brittany Fremion, PhD, Associate Professor of History at Central Michigan University, Benjamin Peterson, PhD, Lecturer in Political Science and History at Alma College and Edward Lorenz, PhD, Reid-Knox Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at Alma College.
“We began preparing more than a year ago after an environmental-health expert from Oregon, who had grown-up In Detroit during the PBB crisis. [They] asked if we were going to host an event explaining the lessons of the crisis,” said Lorenz. “We primarily want to focus on the lessons from our experience for communities who suffer major environmental health crises.”
In 1973, Michigan Chemical Company in St. Louis, MI accidentally shipped polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) in place of livestock feed. The discovery of the accidental switch was not known until a year later.
It was not announced to the public until several months later. Some believe that the Michigan Republican Governor, William Milliken, had an influence on the lack of response to the accident.
“There are social-political costs with people becoming cynical about ever expecting or trusting public agencies to deliver a clean environment,” said Lorenz.
By 1974, Michigan Health and Human Services found the contaminate affected over 500 farms. Over a million animals and thousands of pounds of product were destroyed. They found that many Michiganders experienced few effects of PBB due to indirect exposure. Those who are the most affected are workers of the Michigan Chemical Company and farm families.
“The costs imposed on small farmers in the 1970S were never fully compensated for, leading many families, especially from smallest dairies, to survive as farmers. We need to know more about the adjustment of small farmers and the emergence of large farms,” said Lorenz.
According to MHHS, the impacts on public health are being investigated in a variety of ways including a Michigan long-term PBB study in 1977. The effects are still being investigated.
“We have never answered all questions about the human health effects of exposure. A major part of the conference will review what we are learning,” said Lorenz.
The first day of the conference will begin with opening comments, a keynote address and will conclude with a special dance performance by Alma College students.
The second day will begin in policy and PBB panel discussion, tour of St. Louis and finally with a screening of a film with discussion.
The last day will conclude with a morning session followed by a luncheon recognizing PBB heroes.
Admission for the conference is available and is free to the public. Those who cannot attend should expect information regarding the livestream soon. Students and other members of the community are encouraged to attend.
All other information regarding the conference can be found at https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/