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Czechoslovakia Will Slaughter 130,000 Contaminated Cows

November 30, 1990

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ Czechoslovakia will kill and incinerate more than 130,000 cows contaminated with toxic compounds, health officials announced Friday.

But they denied that contamination levels posed health risks.

According to the trade union daily Prace, the animals’ meat and milk contain dangerously high levels of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls.

PCBs are chemical additives that can cause cancer in humans. Contamination of the herds was traced to paint now banned in Czechoslovakia but previously used for agricultural equipment.

Jaroslav Kriz, chief hygienist at the Czech Health Ministry acknowledged that more than 130,000 of Czechoslovakia’s estimated 1.9 million dairy cows and their calves would have to be slaughtered and burned to ashes over a three-year period. He said contaminated meat had been sold in Czechoslovakia but maintained none had been exported. Hungarian officials said they imported no Czechoslovak meat but bartered with their former Soviet bloc neighbors for dairy products.

According to Kriz, contaminated milk had been made into butter and would also be incinerated. But he denied any serious health risks because he said Czechoslovakia’s government-set limits for PCBs in meat and dairy products are lower than in other countries.

″Nobody in the world would be able to prove health damage resulting from such low levels″ as have been detected in the contaminated beef and dairy products, he said in a telephone interview.

In Czechoslovakia, milk fit for consumption may contain up to 0.3 milligrams of PCBs per every 2.2 pounds, compared with a permissable threshold in the United States of 1.5 milligrams of the contaminant per 2.2 pounds of milk, Kriz said.

According to Prace, 600,000 liters of milk from contaminated cows was still being produced daily.

″We’re counting with a period of some three years before we will manage to exclude all contaminated stock from breeding programs,″ Prace quoted Juraj Mesik of the Environment Ministry as saying.

A Slovak health official, who identified himself only as Romancik, said the costs to more rural Slovakia, where 30,000 contaminated cows are to be destroyed, would be $7 million.

PCBs represent a long-term threat to the environment because they are tough chemical compounds that can only be destroyed by temperatures of above 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit, Prace said.

Mesik said Czechoslovakia urgently needed three high-temperature furnaces, in addition to one already operating at Ceske Budojevice in southern Bohemia, to incinerate the contaminated livestock.

Ashes would be taken to special toxic waste dumps to prevent contamination spreading to ground water, Kriz said.

Production of PCBs was stopped in Czechoslovakia in 1984, but Communist authorities banned the use of paint containing the additives only two years later, Prace said.

Czechoslovakia’s environment was badly polluted by four decades of Communist rule, when state factories, to meet centrally-planned production targets, indiscriminately spewed unfiltered fumes into the air and dumped toxic wastes into water and soil.

The cows were contaminated through fodder polluted by paint used on silage pits, Prace said, adding that one square yard covered with the paint contains about three-quarters of an ounce of the chemicals.

Herds also picked up the chemicals from general PCB pollution in the environment, the paper said. It quoted Melik as saying game and fish are also often found to be contaminated.

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