Can someone from Pennsylvania post what they know about the issue in
the ProMED posting below, and some better-referenced information?
Montgomery Co.--is that the county with Perkiomen and Pottstown down
to Valley Forge? Does PECO still have its Limerick plant running?
A digression on the nuclear connection--am I remembering correctly
that Limerick is one of the nuke plants, like Peach Bottom on the
Susquehanna and Salem on the Delaware, that has the same Babcock and
Wilcox-made reactor (without a containment structure) as Chernobyl's?
The Salem one is on ancestral Sinnicksen land, so I bear it a
particular grudge. ;^) In my 20s, I made a hobby of visiting the
visitor centers of these plants and asking engineering and Civil
Defense questions of the Public Information Officers; so much fun to
watch em try to answer.
Thanks to any Penna. folk who can illuminate me.
UNSOLVED MYSTERY, PURPLE PIGS - USA (PENNSYLVANIA)
A ProMED-mail post
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 10:03:40 -0700
From: Saran Kirschbaum
Source: News agencies (edited) 8 Mar 1999
Deformed calves. Discolored crops. Purple pigs dying by the hundreds,
then decomposing quickly. The United States Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) is delving into these problems in Pennsylvania.
EPA officials will visit farms as part of a continuing effort to
figure out what is going on, said Carrie Deitzel, an EPA
community-involvement coordinator. The mystery has Montgomery County
farmers scared for their businesses and for their health. During the
visits, farmers will be asked to offer their suggestions. "We'll
basically talk to them to see what their specific concerns are, and
see if they have specific places on the farms they want included in
the sampling plan," Deitzel said.
The long series of reported problems, first noted in the early 1990s,
has confounded agricultural and environmental officials. The EPA did
its most recent round of soil and water testing on the farms in
January, and more tests will be run in the next few weeks.
"The data so far does not indicate any kind of environmental or human
health emergency out there," Deitzel said. Deitzel acknowledged that
the lack of environmental danger did not mean the lack of an
environmental problem. The problem is not restricted to these parts.
"This isn't an isolated thing," said Lynn Campbell Wingert, an EPA
spokeswoman. "Throughout the mid-Atlantic region, farm animals are
dying, and we don't know why. We're going to make any connection we
can to figure out what is going on here."
One farmer, Wayne Hallowell of Douglass Township, said there was no
real way to know how many farms were involved locally because it was
unlikely every farmer would be willing to cooperate with
investigators. "A lot of farmers with something wrong won't tell
anyone," Hallowell said. "They don't want the government coming in and
shutting them down, or they're trying to sell their land. They're very
tight-lipped on that."
But problems are there, enough to put farmers out of business! Tom
Yarnall, a farmer for 30 years, finally gave up raising pigs on his
Gilbertsville spread. Yarnall still grows some corn. "I had almost
1,000 pigs when this thing started," Yarnall said. "In the spring of
'92, it all went downhill. We had whole litters die when they were
According to Yarnall, more than 200 pigs died during a two-month
period in 1993. All had similar signs: turning a purplish color, with
newborns just not growing to maturity. His crops turned purple, and
have been stunted for several years. Yarnall said, "The yields are way
down. They just don't do well."
The pigs' bodies decomposed in about half the normal time, according
to Yarnall. *Generally, dead pigs decompose in two to seven days,
depending on the surrounding climate and other variables*, said Arlen
Wilbers, a large-animal veterinarian at the Quakertown Veterinary
Clinic who examined livestock at Yarnall's farm.
Kenneth Kephart, an associate professor of animal science at
Pennsylvania State University, investigated the goings-on at Yarnall's
farm but was unable to find clear evidence of a cause. Yarnall is not
the only local farmer facing unexplained and unusual disease among his
Merrill Mest said he had had a decade's worth [of problems] at his
farm, just a few miles from Yarnall's. "I've had health problems with
cows," Mest said. "They just waste away. They don't grow right." Other
cows there have had displaced stomachs [abomasum] and cystic ovaries.
"My vet says I have a lot more problems than I should," Mest said.
"But nobody knows why."
Wilbers, who is also Mest's veterinarian, said some of the problems
might be chalked up to livestock management. Wilbers indicated some of
the happenings seemed to have external causes, but nothing was a
Nearby, at Hallowell's dairy farm, 3 deformed calves were born within
eighteen months in the mid-1990s -- after nearly 50 years without any
deformed calves being born on the land. One newborn calf weighed 3
times the typical birth weight. Another was born with testicles and
with a vagina. A third was born without a neck, without a tail and
with reversed leg joints.
During the same period, Hallowell said, several calves on his farm
would not grow. And, like Yarnall, Hallowell's corn and grass have
turned an unsettling shade of purple, and they do not reach maturity.
State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman Pete
Trosini said the agency would review its old records on the farms'
problems in search of "any inconsistencies or anything that might
raise a red flag."
Hallowell said he suspected radiation poisoning, citing the Cabot
Corporation chemical plant in Boyertown, just a few miles from his
The Cabot plant uses a wide variety of chemicals in its operations,
and was listed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in 1992 as
one of 46 sites in the United States with serious and long-term
radioactive contamination that required accelerated cleanup.
"The Boyertown site had stored in mausoleums 25,000 tons of residue
product from their operations," said Michael Lamastra, a senior
project manager with the NRC. He said the Cabot site was on the list
only because of the high cost of moving so much radioactive waste, not
because of a perceived health or environmental danger. Lamastra said
the Cabot plant was removed from the NRC list after the contaminants
were transferred offsite last year.
Cabot officials said that the levels of radiation were low, and the
storage methods were proper. "I'm not aware of any incidents that
could have contributed to these types of problems," said Tony
Campitelli, the plant's manager of environmental affairs. The EPA
probably will look into Cabot's environmental record and practices as
part of its investigation, Deitzel said. But, she noted, neither DEP
nor NRC had reported problems with the firm's Boyertown plant.
The unexpected consequences that result when industrial refuse and
farms get too close to each other could provide an explanation, said
Sarah Caspar, who is the EPA's on-site coordinator for an area in
Parkersburg, W.Va., that also has seen unexplained livestock deaths.
The affected farms in that area are near a chemical company's
landfill. "Part of me has this feeling that as time has passed since
industrialization, things that people weren't aware of may be coming
to the forefront because of time and accumulation," she said.
As the riddle continues unsolved in western Montgomery County, the
farmers say they fear for their lives as well as their livelihoods.
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
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