n 1973, an accident at a chemical plant in the small town of St. Louis in the middle of Michigan’s mitten triggered one of the largest mass poisonings in American history.
Before the crisis was over, nearly the entire state population – about 9 million residents – ate food contaminated with a toxic fire retardant called PBB that workers erroneously mixed into cattle feed.
It was a nightmare that Francis “Bus” Spaniola remembers well: confused residents with unexplained illnesses; farmers facing bankruptcy after thousands of pigs, chickens and cattle from more than 500 farms were executed en masse and protesters hanging state leaders in effigy. A state representative at the time, Spaniola toured Michigan’s dairyland and spoke to devastated farmers.
His companion through the chaos: his 18-year-old son, Tony, who shadowed him in 1977 as state lawmakers investigated the catastrophe.