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