Collections Spotlight: Ted F. Jackson Papers

23 07 2019
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Newspaper clipping “Veterinary school at MSU honors late Dr. Ted F. Jackson,” undated

In 1973, a Velsicol Chemical plant in St. Louis, Michigan mistakenly shipped a toxic flame retardant known as polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) to a livestock feed plant. Veterinarian Ted F. Jackson (DVM, class of 1944) discovered the PBB contamination in his patients, a herd of dairy cattle belonging to Frederic L. Halbert (MS, Chemical Engineering, class of 1968). Jackson was instrumental in determining that the cause of the herd’s illness was the feed.  The PBB contamination also spread to humans as the milk and meat from the affected cattle was consumed. One year passed before the animals were culled. Veterinarians euthanized approximately 30,000 cattle, 1.5 million chickens, and thousands of pigs and sheep.  They were buried in pits near Kalkaska, Michigan, along tons of food products made with contaminated milk.  That same year, Jackson and Halbert published “A Toxic Syndrome Associated with the Feeding of Polybrominated Biphenyl-Contaminated Protein Concentrate to Dairy Cattle” in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  In 1976, a long-term study was initiated to determine effects of the PBB exposure on humans.  The study continues today, administered by the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Cover of article reprint, “A Toxic Syndrome Associated with the Feeding of Polybrominated Biphenyl-Contaminated Protein Concentrate to Dairy Cattle” in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1974

Unfortunately, Jackson died prematurely in May 1975 after a heart attack.  As such, his contributions to the discovery of the PBB contamination are frequently overlooked.  In 1983, his son, Jeffrey F. Jackson, made a documentary film called “Cattlegate” about these events.

Recently, a small collection of papers belonging to Ted F. Jackson were donated to the Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections. The collection primarily consists of research by Ted F. Jackson, D.V.M., and Frederic L. Halbert into dairy cattle that were fed PBB contaminated food, and the publication of their article in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association in 1974. There is also a draft of a letter written by Jackson’s family to Time magazine in response to a May 10, 1976 article which failed to include Jackson’s contribution to the discovery of PBB poisoning.  The Time article stated that Halbert began to study the cause of his cattle’s illness “[w]hen veterinarians were unable to diagnose the problem.”  It is unclear if the letter was published.

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Draft of letter to Time magazine from Jackson family members in response to a May 10, 1976 article

The collection also contains Jackson’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine diploma (1944), a Registered Veterinarian certificate from the State of Michigan (1954), and slides and photographs of his veterinary practice.  A biography of Ted F. Jackson, and an item level inventory of the collection, which was provided by the donor, is included as well.  The collection is open to the public, and the finding aid can be viewed online: http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/ua10-3-382.pdf.

 

 

Written by Megan Badgley Malone                                                                                  collections & outreach archivist

 

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