A team of federal doctors took blood samples today from more than half the population of this small southeastern Idaho community, the scene of a major PCB poisoning scare.
The only general store in Franklin, a Mormon community of some 400 people, buys its eggs from the nearby Ritewood Egg Co., the poultry farm most seriously affected by contaminations from the cancer-causing chemical.
The Ritewood Co. has destroyed more than 300,000 of its chickens and more than 18 million eggs since U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors first found PCB in poultry shipped by the farm to food processing plants in Minnesota and Iowa.
The PCB was introduced into Ritewood's operation by feed from the Pierce Packing Co. in Billings, Mont., federal officials said last weekend. A 10-state search is going on to determine if contaminated feed has been shipped to other poultry producers. Officials also are trying to find out how many poisoned eggs may have been sold to the public.
Dr. Mark Kehrberg, a Salt Lake City-based physician with the Center for Disease Control said the results of the Franklin investigation "will provide us with a unique opportunity to study PCB ingestion, something we know almost nothing about in the U.S.."
Kehrberg was on hand, together with Dr. Peter Drotman from CDC's Atlanta headquarters, to supervise the distribution of specially prepared questionnaires and to take blood samples from the Franklin residents, who trooped into the local Mormon church to have the tests done.
Dr. Kehrberg explained that the questionnaires were "mostly geared to find out who ate the most eggs and over what period of time."
Many of those tested said they thought the study was unwarranted, but lined up nonetheless in the church kitchen to donate two vials of blood. Some mothers brought in samples of breast milk.
"There's so little known about this kind of exposure," Dr. Kehrberg said, "and we're interested in learning all we can. We have some knowledge from a study of fish affected by PCB along Lake Michigan, but this is our first opportunity to study PCB in human beings."
Jack Jelke, an officer from the southeast Idaho District Health Office, said that the team did not know what they would find.
"With the time frame involved, which was short, and the small amount of eggs consumed, the end result may be so minute that there may be almost nothing there," Jelke said.
"The problem is we really don't know what we may find, or what we are looking for," he said. "We are certain no one ate enough eggs, even here in Franklin where there is only one source of eggs, to become seriously ill."
In a case involving massive PCB ingestion in a Japanese village, many people developed acne-like skin lesions and liver problems. The now-banned chemical, long used as a coolant and lubricant in electrical motors and transformers, has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
Marlow and Paul Woodward, who operate the Ritewood farm, said they have almost finished the task of destroying their chickens and eggs.
Marlow Woodward said Franklin County health officials first decided to burn the contaminated chickens and bury the eggs, but that possible problems with PCB pollution from the smoke made them decide to bury the chickens, too. They are being gassed with carbon monoxide inside trucks, then buried in the county landfill.
R. B. Hobbs, a physician with the county health office in Preston, said that he believed the amounts of PCB in the chickens and eggs "was so small that they do not pose any danger to the environment." The water table, he said was not placed in jeopardy by plans for disposal in the landfill.
Leroy Gomez, regional director for the FDA's Rocky Mountain area in Denver, said that at least two other poultry farms, one in Utah and one in Montana, may have PCB poisoning problems.
Gomez said there is also a possibility that hog farms may have received some of the poisoned feed and FDA inspectors will be trying this week to determine how many poultry and hog farms have been affected.
"We are now into a secondary list of purchasers who bought the feed from the Pierce plant," Gomez said, "and we hope to have this thing wrapped up soon." delete