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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Dec 1, 2009, 10:05 am

Another Slaughterhouse Hazard: Pig Brain Mist

BY Emily Udell

(Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

"Aerosolised porcine brain." The mere words make me shiver. A report released yesterday by the British jounal The Lancet Neurology found that Indiana and Minnesota workers exposed to pig brain mist suffered a neurological disorder that caused their immune systems to attack themselves.

The 24 slaughterhouse workers who were affected by the illness between 2006 and 2008 used a powerful air compressor to shoot brain tissue from pigs' heads. Their neurological illnesses were triggered when they inhaled mist from the pigs' brains, according to the study.

This Wired story offers a detailed description of the process (the squeamish should beware—there's a somewhat graphic picture included in the link). The workers have recovered to some degree, but none fully, according to Wired.

Neurologist James Dyck, who helped treat the workers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told the magazine:

When you’re breathing in pig brain tissue, your body develops an antibody against it....There’s enough overlap between pig brains and human brains that it was a problem.

The research was conducted by the Mayo Clinic and the Minnesota Department of Health.

The workers from the Quality Pork Processors plant in Austin, Minn., and the Indiana Packers Corporation at Delphi, Ind., had reported symptoms like numbness, tingling and difficulty walking. It took as little as four weeks for symptoms to emerge. All three plants in the country who used this process (that includes the Hormel Foods Corp. in Fremont, Neb.) have stopped. 

This story is just another example of the dangers faced by workers in the meatpacking industry. In October we blogged at Working ITT about how little has changed for workers since the era of Upton Sinclair.

More Workers Seeking Day Labor

And in case you missed it, be sure to check out this story from yesterday about how more U.S.-born workers are joining immigrant laborers in looking for construction jobs at street corners and in home improvement store parking lots.

Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show “Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.

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