Texas state officials fined Formosa $150,000 in 2000 for air pollution violations, including vinyl chloride and hydrogen chloride emissions that exceeded health limits multiple times. Since then, the emissions have declined, Clawson said.
The area has long been known for other problems related to toxic substances. Point Comfort is on the eastern banks of Lavaca Bay, which was classified as a Superfund site in 1980 due to mercury contamination from Alcoa. A 2007 study conducted by the same Texas A & M researchers shows wastewater discharges into the bay may be associated with DNA damage in oysters.
Researchers say more studies are needed to confirm the link between the industrial emissions and the cattle’s DNA damage, and to see if there are any human health effects.
Currently, no one is studying health of the ranchers. Such studies are complex because people are exposed to a variety of chemicals and lifestyles, such as smoking, that can harm their health, Bissett said.
For now, many of the ranchers fear for their families’ health and hope that further tests will help them recoup the costs of the calves that have been aborted or died before reaching full term.
Mumme, who is 59, grew up on the ranch and began managing it for his uncle in 1986.
“The presence of that plant has negatively affected the quality and quantity of livestock production and I fully believe it has also affected human health,” Mumme said. “The most important question now is what long-lasting effects will this have on me and on my kids?”
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.