A stone marker stands next to the former train depot in St. Louis, Michigan. The depot now serves as a history museum and the mark once stood in a nearby field warning people of the contaminated soil from the former Velsicol Chemical plant.
In 1973 farmers around Michigan began to notice milk production of their dairy cows had begun to decline. soon after the cows stopped eating and their calves died. The after researching the illness the cause was traced back to the animal feed and it was found to contain high levels of polybrominated biphenyl, or PBB. A chemical used as a fire retardant.
It was a year later in April of 1974 That it was discovered that the PBB retardant was mistaken for instead of magnesium oxide, a cattle feed supplement. The two chemicals came from the Velsicol Chemical plant and the sacks of PBB were sent to the animal feed plants by mistake. 30,000 cattle, 4,500 pigs, 1,500 sheep, 1.5 million chickens were killed after the discovery of the mixup.
Fifty years later it remains as one of the largest environmental disasters in American history. The Velsicol plant closed down and was demolished and buried where it stood. The stone maker was placed in its location to warn people. It was moved in 2013 to its current location after local residents requested it be replaced with a less ominous warning. It stands as a reminder of that horrific incident a half century ago.
In 1981, Ron Howard and Art Carney starred in the TV movie Bitter Harvest that was based on the tragic event. I was too young to remember horrific event when it originally happened, but I do remember the Ron Howard movie with him as a Michigan farmer.
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