The PBB episode in Michigan: an overall appraisal

Crit Rev Toxicol. 1985;16(2):105-56. doi: 10.3109/10408448509056268.


Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) were used as a fire retardant. In common with other halogenated hydrocarbons, PBBs are lipophilic and resistant to chemical and metabolic degradation. Cattle on about 25 Michigan farms were exposed to as much as 250 g per head of PBB when it was accidentally mixed in cattle feed in 1973 to 1974. Livestock exposures several orders of magnitude lower occurred on several hundred other farms because of carryover and equipment contamination in feed mills. Approximately 85% of the Michigan population received some exposure to PBB because dairy product marketing involves mixing milk from many farms. A few cases of high human exposure, which may have been as great as 10 g, occurred when residents of the more highly exposed farms consumed their own products. Although numerous clinical signs and pathological changes were reported in exposed cattle, only anorexia, lacrimation, emaciation, hyperkeratosis, and kidney damage were confirmed in controlled studies. The acute toxicity of PBB in laboratory animals is low, but a variety of subacute effects have been reported. Induction of microsomal enzymes, enlargement and histopathological changes of the liver, fetotoxicity, and immunosuppression are among the more significant. Epidemiological studies of exposed humans have revealed no pattern of clinical signs or symptoms that were related to PBB exposure. A complete evaluation of the human consequences of exposure to PBB await the conclusion of long-term epidemiological studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Body Burden
  • Carcinogens
  • Cattle
  • Chemical Industry
  • Dairying
  • Environmental Pollutants / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / poisoning*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Food Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Legislation, Drug
  • Michigan
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / analysis
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / metabolism
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / poisoning*
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / toxicity


  • Carcinogens
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls