Health

New health risk may be caused by PBB exposure

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It has long been known that exposure to poly-brominated bipenyls, or PBB, can result in health issues.

Now another concern has been added to the growing list.

Those exposed to PBB may be as risk of it effecting their immune system.

A recently published study in the scientific journal Epigenetics by Dr. Alicia Smith, show that sites in the genome were associated with PBB levels found in blood drawn from people exposed to PBB.

A genome is the complete assembly of DNA, comprised of about 3 billion base pairs that makes each individual unique.

The report suggests that exposure can affect the epigenome, which is multiple chemical compounds that can basically “tell a genome what to do.”

Those compounds and proteins that make up the epigenome attach to DNA directing genes to switch on or off.

The study revealed that more than 1,800 sites in the epigenome were associated with the current PBB levels in the blood, meaing that PBB exposure could have an impact on those sites.

Whether these differences are linked to any of the health problems reported by those exposed to PBB has not yet been determined, however, the findings suggest that PBB exposure can have an impact on the functioning of the immune system, according to Dr. Michele Marcus, the lead researcher for the Atlanta, Ga.-based Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, which has been studying the long-term health effects of PBB exposure on Michigan residents since 2011.

In addition to hormone-related health effects, previous studies on PBB exposure have found an increase in breast cancers, miscarriages, earlier than normal pubertal development and thyroid problems.

The major acute health effects reported were skin rashes, hair loss and memory issues.

The Michigan PBB Registry was formed in 1976 by the Michigan Department of Community Health after the fire-retardant PBB was mixed with animal feed at the former Velsicol Chemical Co. plant in St. Louis in 1973 and shipped to farmers and feed mills statewide.

It was consumed by cattle, pigs and chickens, contaminating milk, beef, eggs and other farm products across Michigan until the mix-up was discovered a year later.

People throughout the state were exposed to PBB by eating the contaminated food.

It has been discovered that it can be passed on to children born years later who may have been exposed in their mother’s womb or through breastfeeding.

Emory University started maintaining the Michigan PBB Registry in 2011.

During the past few years its PBB research team has been conducting community meetings across the state, including several in Gratiot County, taking blood samples to conduct additional studies.

Those include a clinical trial with a substance that may help the body eliminate PBB, and an epigenetic study with families of three generations to determine if exposed fathers can pass on PBB-related epigenetic marks to their children and grandchildren.

“Partnering with community members has helped shape our research questions and is providing valuable health information to the people who most need to know it,” Dr. Marcus said.

She and her team will return to Michigan for meetings in Grand Rapids and Fremont on April 27 and 28 respectively.

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