Emissions from Plastic Manufacturing Damaging Cattle DNA

two-tagged cow

Courtesy of  Scientific American and Environmental Health News, another reason to despise plastic. According to an article by Matthew Cimitile, researchers believe that airborne pollution from plastics manufacturing may change the DNA of cattle.

It all started when ranchers living 4 miles downwind from the Formosa Plastics facilities in Point Comfort, Texas noticed that their steers were losing weight, their cows were miscarrying and having stillborn calves and some of the calves were being born with abnormalities like missing limbs:

Tests have revealed that herds as far as six miles downwind of the factories have more DNA disturbances than other herds not downwind, according to scientists at Texas A & M University. The changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage can increase the animal’s risk of cancer and reproductive damage

While all living organisms experience DNA damage, it usually self-repairs. It’s the high levels of genetic damage across multiple herds in the area that lead scientists to conclude that it must be caused by environmental factors.

The original study, which tested 21 herds within an 11-mile radius of the industrial facility beginning in 2002, was published in the journal Ecotoxicity. Formosa is denying that the damage is being caused by pollution from their manufacturing facilities, pointing out that the worst DNA damage did not occur in the closest proximity to the plants. Researchers, however, believe that may be because of the prevailing southeasterly wind, which blow the toxic gases downwind from the facility. The findings also indicate that people living in the vicinity may be at risk:

Niladri Basu, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, said the findings indicate that living downwind of large industrial plants can harm DNA and perhaps harm the health of animals, ecosystems and people. “These results validate the health concerns raised by area residents and a human study is warranted,” Basu said.


Formosa may not be the only culprit; there is also an Alcoa aluminum manufacturing plant nearby, though it is not upwind from the ranches. However, because of mercury contamination from the Alcoa plant, Lavaca Bay’s eastern shores were classified as a Superfund site in 1980 and a 2007 study showed DNA damage in oysters in the bay. Between Formosa and Alcoa, 1.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals were emitted in 2002, according to the EPA. Formosa, which has expanded operations in the last 10 years, was fined in 2000 for air pollution violations.

Ranchers are worrying about the health of their herds and how to recover their losses from the still births and infertility. They are also worrying about the health of themselves and their families. This includes 59 year-old Randy Mumme who’s family has ranched in this part of southeast Texas for 200 years:

“The presence of that plant has negatively affected the quality and quantity of livestock production and I fully believe it has also affected human health,” Mumme said. “The most important question now is what long-lasting effects will this have on me and on my kids?”


Image Credit: Food.change.org

  1. WaterMan

    Not only is the issue in the air …

    It’s also affecting the water.

    I find it funny that on the Formosa Plastics website they speak of reducing their carbon footprint.

    How about reducing their death and destruction footprint?

  2. Leslie Berliant

    I don’t think that even organic farming would keep these cattle healthy if they are downwind from a plastics factory!

    As far as organic cattle raising goes, we do need to educate people and also to fight the current NAIS rules which will essentially put small cattle farms that let their cows roam free out of business.

  3. Tricia

    This is why I want to see research done into whether the common practice of nuking children’s meals in plastic containers is contributing to the fact that there are so many more pediatric disease diagnoses, especially cancers. I really beleive the plastics are a big piece of the problem that people just don’t understand!

  4. Bob Wallace

    To: Leslie Berliant

    Just read your Blog on Sustainablog about a Story titled “Emissions from Plastic Manufacturing Damaging Cattle DNA.

    From your blog contents is it obvious that all you did was regurgitated from another blog/web site that was written by Matthew Cimitile, who sold his review to Environmental Health News. While the posting of this story was first printed in a journal titled Ecotoxicological Journal.
    This paper had its genesis from a PhD thesis written by a Wesley Bissett who prior to joining the Texas A & M large animal division was a practicing Veterinarian near where these quaint? and old fashioned ranchers live.
    If you have not (and I truly suspect you have not) read the research report titled ”geostatistical analysis of biomarkers of genotoxicity in cattle, Bos taurus and Bos taurus x Bos indicus, sentinels near industrial facilities”” and its genesis “ “Ecosystem Health at the Texas Coastal Bend: a Spatial analysis of exposure and response – a thesis by W. Bissett. “” you should.
    My blood boiled when I did my research on this hatchet job because the answer to the question asked by “Farminguk.com” a British Farm Web magazine site that has posted an artic le asking the question regurgitated from the artic le by Matthew Cimitile’s first posted in Environmental Health News. The question was “United States -Mystery Illness in cattle?” to me this is no mystery and is very clear to me- that the ranchers and the environment did it. And these ranchers who claim to manage their cattle business as their fathers did over 200 years ago is a bunch of malarkey.
    Why do I feel this way – well what I have read and seen over the years is that ranchers and farmers have and continue to pollute and expose us all to toxics (especially genotoxics), and want to sit back and blame their environmental damage on anyone they can. Just look at the million mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico coming from the mouth of the Mississippi river.
    Now lets’ look at some facts. Mr. Bissitt stated in his PHD thesis that a chemical company just south of these ranchers listed a release of some 900kgs of Acetaldehyde emitted by that company during the year 2002 (it should be interesting to note that his on-site study consisted of only a three month study period of these emissions that covered the whole year of 2002). And he further stated that if the genotoxicity could be traced to that company then the cause would be this Acetaldehyde.
    When I read that statement I started to research the sources of Acetaldehyde because if the only source of this chemical was from this facility I would have to maybe change my mind about these ranchers.
    Ms. Berilinat do you know what I found? and it was a very simple search of Google. This chemical (Acetaldyde) is produced by growing vegetation including fruits, trees, and cotton (which is a major crop in the area around these ranchers). It is also generated by the rotting of plants, and emitted by plants under stress (such as the long term draught that existed in South Texas); along with the waste products of animals such as cattle (you know poop and urine).
    Also the largest source of this chemical (acetaldehyde) is wildfires and fires intentionally set by ranchers to clear their grazing land and their crop lands.
    I then searched reports written by the U. S. EPA. In one document that I found they made a very damming statement. This report titled “Sources of genotoxicity and cancer risk in ambient air” published by the EPA in the December 1992 issue of Pharmacogenetics. This report stated the following: “Products of incomplete combustion are identified as a major source of carcinogenic risk in urban areas, especially from small non-industrial sources. The major ubiquitous emission sources outdoors in populated areas are residential home heating and motor vehicles. Indoors the major combustion source is environmental tobacco smoke. Polycyclic organic matter adsorbed onto the particles emitted from incomplete combustion are estimated to make the largest contribution to human genotoxic and cancer risk. Mutagenic emission factors combined with dispersion modeling indicated that automobiles and heating sources were major sources of mutagens. Ambient air studies to apportion the sources of mutagens in non-industrial areas confirmed this prediction”. Their report stated that the small particles of material in the smoke provided a place for other organic compounds to be exposed to heat and ultraviolet rays to break those compounds down into genotoxic compounds. Could this be from the pesticides; insecticides; cotton plant defoliants; and other potentially genotoxic chemicals that ranchers and farmers spray from crop dusters during growing and harvesting periods of the year.
    Another fact that needs to be included. During 2002 Texas and many parts of the world suffered severe draught conditions. In May of 2002 (Just prior to the start of Bissett’s sample collection) there were very large wildfires in New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and mainly in Mexico and South America. I found a satellite photo of the smoke from the fires in Mexico and South America that covered the Gulf States including the Texas Gulf Coast. This cloud contained genotoxic compounds along with small particles of material in the range of less than 2 microns to 10 microns in size that are known to harm people with breathing disorders. To see this satellite photo type in Mexico fires 2002 on Google. The specific photo is dated May 2nd, 2002. So during 2002 the cattle owned by these ranchers along with millions of other animals that live outdoors were exposed to genotoxic compounds 24 hours a day for the total period that the wildfires burned. And during normal years these cattlemen burn their pastures and crop lands while their cattle must breathe this air that is laden with genotoxic compounds generated by these very same cattlemen for many days at a time. This during the time that calves are developing within their mothers who breath these genotoxins and carry it through their blood systems to the fetus. Could that be why their were stillborns, and other mutagenic effects noted.
    Ms. Berliant another area you may want to explore is the current management practices that are employed by ranchers.
    Are you aware that (still in some areas) ranchers dig a hole in the ground and fill it with a mixture of insectides and poisons for other organisms that infect cattle? They then herd their cattle into these holes filled with these toxic materials and have the cattle to be totally covered by this mixture. The cattle then emerge with these toxic materials in their mouths and perhaps in their lungs and stomachs. This has been the common practice for many years. Now some ranchers just swab this toxic mixture on the backs of their cattle. What effect do these toxic (and potentially genotoxic compounds) have on the DNA of Cattle? These pits now are considered toxic dumps, and as they sit there they are contaminating the surface water and groundwater used for cattle drinking water and some wells that are supposed to provide safe clean water for human consumption.
    Then they shoot the cattle full of estrogens to encourage them to grow bigger, and what effect would this have on their children (perhaps their sons will have breasts and undeveloped capability to bring future sons and daughters into the world). Also what effect do these mutagenic compounds have on the DNA of these Cattle?
    So Ms. Berliant in the future you should question the validity of information that you so easily push on to your readers. I would expect that you are a woman of integrity, and want to bring the truth to those who look up to you for the truth.
    If you do not publish this rebuttal then I must only consider that you do not stand for truth and the American way.

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