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Flooding prompts another halt at Michigan baby formula factory

baby with bottle
Abbott Nutrition’s plant in Sturgis was shut down this week after rain overwhelmed the storm sewer in the city and the plant. (Shutterstock)

A torrential downpour of rain that fell Monday on Sturgis’ streets also  flooded the Abbott Nutrition factory, dealing yet another setback to the facility’s baby formula production.

The storm hit southwest Michigan about 10 days after the plant had reopened following a months-long voluntary shutdown amid federal reports that contamination and poor facility infrastructure and safety processes had been found there.

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Rainfall in Sturgis reached 0.94 inches in 15 minutes and 1.46 inches within 30 minutes, enough to overwhelm storm sewer systems and send the collected rain from the storm system into parts of the plant.

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“Most municipal storm water systems are not designed for … every extreme (rain) event,” Michael Hughes, Sturgis city manager, told Bridge Michigan.

In Sturgis, both the city and Abbott have storm systems, and both were pushed to the brink.

Hughes said Abbott’s storm system connects to the city’s system, which is “not uncommon at all especially for a city our age.”

Abbott Nutrition announced the shutdown on Wednesday. The company said it could last weeks as it is forced to “assess damage caused by the storm and clean and re-sanitize the plant.” 

Abbott’s first shutdown started a nationwide baby food shortage — and its reopening was heralded as a solution. By May, federal officials had stepped in to increase supplies, including turning to international imports.

Abbott Nutrition is a division of Illinois-based Abbott, which is among four companies in the U.S. that produce 90 percent of the country’s baby formula. Prior to February, Abbott alone made about 40 percent of powdered formula distributed across the country, including the Similac brand. 

Abbott voluntarily closed the Sturgis factory in February during an investigation into the possibility of contaminated infant formula by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, following the deaths of nine children

While the FDA has not connected formula made in the Sturgis factory to the deaths, reports from the FDA show that a similar bacteria was found in the plant.

FDA documents show that in addition to bacterial contamination, investigators found a leaking roof and documented employees not following safety rules.

In order to reopen, Abbott and the FDA agreed to a legally binding agreement that required the company to resolve the problems before restarting production. It reopened June 4.

Abbott’s Sturgis factory makes products for children who have allergies, digestive issues, and metabolic disorders that require particular baby food formulas. 

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The recent shutdown affects production of the EleCare specialty formula, Abbott said.

Despite the latest halt in production, Abbott said in a statement that it “has ample existing supply of EleCare and most of its specialty and metabolic formulas to meet needs for these products until a new product is available.”

Abbott also said company production in June has reached 95 percent of what it produced in January, equating to 8.7 million pounds of baby formula this month. These numbers are from its other factories, which added production, and do not include what was produced in the Sturgis factory.

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