Cows are the new canaries

March 10th, 2009

Something is messing with our cows, and it may be the industrial plant up the road.

Scientific American reports that cattle downwind from industrial facilities right here in Texas suffer genetic damage. Under weight cows, stillborn calves, three legged calves… all cited as results of genetic damage caused by pollution from nearby factories.

The article says:

“Tests have revealed that herds as far as six miles downwind of the factories have more DNA disturbances than other herds not downwind, according to scientists at Texas A & M University. The changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage can increase the animal’s risk of cancer and reproductive damage.”

A factory spokesperson says the study’s results aren’t conclusive about blaming factories for the damage to the cattle:

“The highest evidence of DNA damage was some distance from the industrial plants, rather than close to them,” he said, adding that the scientists said in their report that other environmental conditions or cattle herd management might be to blame.”

However, the case appears strong for the factory emissions impacting the cows’ health. And strong questions are also raised about the impact the emissions are having on non-cows: namely, human beings.

Scientific American goes on to note:

‘Niladri Basu, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan who was not involved in the study, said the findings indicate that living downwind of large industrial plants can harm DNA and perhaps harm the health of animals, ecosystems and people. “These results validate the health concerns raised by area residents and a human study is warranted,” Basu said.’

In other words, says Randy Mumme, a rancher quoted in the article, “The most important question now is what long-lasting effects will this have on me and on my kids?”

Today in Texas, cattle near polluting factories are the canaries in the coal mine.