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  • Writer's pictureFiona McNeill

The Poisoning at the Green Parrot Goat Farm

Halloween is a time to tell horror stories. So, tonight I will tell you a story that doctors find hair-raising.

The Green Parrot Goat Farm was a hippie commune in Oregon in the 1970s. The commune was described as an ‘old farmhouse surrounded by green fields, woods, sheds, old out buildings, and assorted trucks, vans, and bathtubs, consisting of twelve humans, four dogs, four turkeys, two geese, two pigs, twenty-nine chickens, eleven goats, and one noisy parrot.’

I have always assumed that they were a group of young people who decided to ‘turn on, tune in, and drop out’. Sadly, their free spirit lifestyle made them sick. It also made them famous amongst lead poisoning researchers.

In February 1971, a 27-year-old man from the commune appeared in the emergency room. He had pains in his chest and abdomen, stools that were described as ‘tarry’, and complained of sore calves, tiredness, and fatigue. He had horrible bad breath. His teeth were in a terrible state. He had a thin blue line at his gum margin. His blood work was awful. A sharp-eyed technician suggested lead poisoning. Once tested, his blood lead levels proved to be sky high. They were one hundred times higher than today's average blood lead level in Canada.

He was treated with chelation therapy. This can have side effects that include fever, nausea, headache and vomiting. It can also burn at the site of the IV. His blood lead levels fell. He was sent home.

Public health nurses were sent to the farm to investigate. The patient considered this intrusion by the establishment. The nurses discovered multiple sources of lead. His food was being prepared in a bowl with a lead glaze. He was drinking water collected in a can that was soldered with lead. He was using a lead lined pipe to smoke marijuana. The main source of his lead poisoning was from plum wine.

The commune had been making home-made wine from plums in their orchard. They used three old bathtubs. The bathtubs were glazed with lead. The acidic wine leeched the lead out of the glaze.

The blood lead levels of all the adults in the commune were high by today’s standards. The young man with the sky-high levels drank more wine than everyone else. He estimated he had drunk fifty (yes, 50) gallons of wine in the four weeks before he entered the hospital.

When the source of poisoning was explained, he promised to dispose of the wine. However, his blood lead levels slowly crept back up over the next few months. His physicians were not convinced the wine was destroyed.

The farm was eventually sold after they were 'busted for pot cultivation' in 1978.

The story is mostly summarized from ‘Ostekud HT, Tufts E, Holmes MA. Plumbism at the green parrot goat farm. Clinical toxicology. 1973 Jan 1;6(1):1-7’

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