Tetona Dunlap  /  AP File
 Inspectors from the Washington State Department of Agriculture Investigative team examine and mark the foreheads of cows with a pink slash to indicate they are healthy on John Koopman's farm in Enumclaw, Wash. The Food and Drug Administration  it has identified a toxic substance that sickened 10 and killed three cows on the farm earlier in the month as a strong oxidizing chromium compound.
updated 6/24/2004 11:39:09 AM ET 2004-06-24T15:39:09

The Food and Drug Administration identified the substance that killed some dairy cows this month as a chromium compound, and a newspaper reported it was chromium 6, the compound investigated by activist Erin Brockovich.

The FDA news release Wednesday did not say how the compound — a tacky, reddish-brown substance — might have gotten on the cattle.

“It’s not something we use in the dairy industry,” said Jay Gordon, executive director for the state Dairy Federation.

Ten cows became sick and three died after Enumclaw farmer John Koopman found the substance on them June 6. Their backs had blistered from exposure to it, and the cows became lethargic.

Milk safe to drink
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, quoting a federal investigative source who asked not to be identified, reported Thursday that it contained chromium 6, the cancer-causing compound that brought fame to Brockovich in her 1996 water pollution case against Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Chromium 6 is used by pharmaceutical and chemical companies to make new materials and by heavy industrial operations to clean aluminum and glass. Chromium compounds generally have a wide range of uses, from nutritional supplements to glass cleaners.

Dr. Robert Brackett, FDA food safety director, said he was withholding information on the compound for fear of compromising the criminal investigation.

Koopman, whose dairy is about 35 miles southeast of Seattle, did not immediately return a call for comment on the FDA finding.

He had pulled all milk from the sick animals. The FDA said Wednesday that tests on sick animals’ milk showed it was safe to drink.

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