Unanticipated prevalence of symptoms among dairy farmers in Michigan and Wisconsin

Environ Health Perspect. 1978 Apr;23:217-26. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7823217.


Adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PBBs) were unknown until the accidental contamination of Michigan dairy farm animal feed in 1973-1974. Human exposure resulted from the consumption of contaminated meat, milk, dairy products, and eggs. In November 1976, the Environmental Sciences Laboratory conducted comprehensive examinations of 933 farmers and residents in Mighigan who were likely to have consumed farm products contaminated with PBB. A comparison group of 229 Wisconsin dairy farmers were examined in March 1977 and the same scientific and medical staffs that conducted the Michigan survey were responsible and the same procedures used. A complete history of symptomatology by organ system, including year of first onset, duration, frequency, and severity of each symptom was obtained by a physician on all adults examined. Statistical analysis of the prevalence of symptoms at the time of examination or during the preceding year in the Michigan and Wisconsin populations studied found the Michigan group to have a significantly higher prevalence of skin, neurological and musculoskeletal symptoms. The increase was seen among the younger age groups 16-35 and 36-55. Michigan females had a higher prevalence of neurological symptoms than the Michigan males. The existing differences could not be explained without considering an etiologic role for exposure to PBB.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Animal Feed
  • Biphenyl Compounds / poisoning*
  • Chemical Industry
  • Dairy Products / poisoning
  • Dairying
  • Female
  • Food Contamination*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Michigan
  • Middle Aged
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / poisoning*
  • Quarantine
  • Sex Factors
  • Wisconsin


  • Biphenyl Compounds
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls