Toxicity from ragwort and fat cow syndrome, or from industrial chemicals: the value of epidemiological analysis for interpreting clinico-pathological findings

Sci Total Environ. 1991 Jul 1;106(1-2):83-96. doi: 10.1016/0048-9697(91)90022-7.


When livestock in close proximity to industries develop signs of ill-defined disease, toxic effects from industrial pollution should be considered in the differential diagnosis. In establishing the final diagnosis, epidemiological methods should be applied to supplement the clinical and pathological techniques. This viewpoint is illustrated by two case-histories describing episodes of cattle disease in central Scotland. A long-established and successful dairy herd in central Scotland sustained severe morbidity and mortality amongst animals which had grazed on a field beside a recently established dump which contained wastes from a chemical waste incinerator. An official investigation concluded that the episode of disease was the result of ragwort poisoning; this diagnosis was reached on clinical and pathological grounds only. A similarly unexpected and severe epidemic occurred a few years later in another dairy herd, about 1 km further away from that incinerator (which was also within 100 m of a municipal incinerator). The official investigation, which again focused on clinical and pathological criteria, led to the diagnosis of fat cow syndrome. In the first episode, contaminated water drained from the chemical waste dump on to the cows' field; in the second episode, the relevant field was affected by airborne pollution from the two waste incinerators mentioned earlier. In both episodes, the epidemiological features, which were not examined systematically by the original investigators, were consistent with the hypothesis that these episodes resulted from exposures to toxic contaminants.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cattle Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cattle Diseases / etiology*
  • Fatty Liver / epidemiology
  • Fatty Liver / etiology
  • Fatty Liver / veterinary*
  • Industrial Waste*
  • Plant Poisoning / epidemiology
  • Plant Poisoning / veterinary*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Scotland
  • Senecio*
  • Syndrome


  • Industrial Waste