Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Douglas M. Costle yesterday ordered development of strict controls on production of PBBs, the chemicals that caused the death or destruction of thousands of Michigan farm animals.
Costle told agency officials to write regulations that could severely limit or even bar the manufacturing of the highly poisonous fire retardents, sources said.
His action comes a month after EPA announced finding PBB (polybrominated biphenyl) residues in plant, fish, soil, water and human hair in the area of three New York and New Jersey manufacturing plants.
Next Tuesday and Wednesday doctors from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City are scheduled to tell a House committee that they have found marked abnormalities in the blood cells of Michigan farm families who ate PBB-contaminated foods between 1973 and 1977.
Rep. John Moss (D-Calif.) pressed EPA earlier this week for a progress report on its regulation of the substance. Moss heads the oversight subcommittee that will probe PBB pollution.
Some scientists think PBBs may already have contaminated the environment in many parts of the country in the same way it has been fouled by other long-lasting chemicals.
PBBs first came into wide use in 1971. In 1973 they accidentally got into cattle feed made by a Battle Creek, Mich. plant. By 1976 thousands of cows and other animals had died or been slaughtered, and hundreds of farm families reported ill effects ranging from nerve disorders to skin eruptions.
EPA officials said yesterday that they think all U.S. manufactures have stopped making or using PBB's, which were employed as fire retardants in hundreds of products, including paints, wire, auto upholstery, telephones, TV cabinets and many plastics.
But 805,000 pounds of PBBs were made for export in 1976, the last year for which EPA has statistics. Between 1970 and 1976 U.S. plants made 13.3 million pounds, some after the EPA was told production had been stopped.
"The amount that got into the cattle feed was only 2,000 pounds," Dr. Iming Selikoff of Mount Sinai said yesterday. "It has been used in hundreds of other places around the country and there hasn't even been time yet for most of it to leak into the environment."
Manufacture of a related class of troublesome chemicals - PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls - will be banned altogether by congressional order starting next year.