Rec­og­niz­ing 50th an­niver­sary of mil­i­tary ex­per­i­ment

The Compass - - OPINION -

This month — be­tween Sun­day, Jan­uary 24 and Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 25, 1965 — is the 50th an­niver­sary of a U.S. mil­i­tary chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal, and ra­di­o­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment that had dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects that still ex­ist. The plan­ning doc­u­ment — “DTC Test Plan 651 Cop­per Head (U)” — was dated Tues­day, De­cem­ber 29, 1964, but the ac­tual trial was not started un­til al­most a month later.

Project Cop­per Head was one 134 ex­per­i­ments listed un­der the code name Project SHAD, which was also re­ferred to as Project 112. More specif­i­cally, Project Cop­per Head was a chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal, and ra­dioac­tive aerosol spray ex­per­i­ment. The spray zone cov­ered a 2,688-square-mile area (96 miles long by 28 miles wide) — from co­or­di­nates 46° to 46°40’ N by 54° to 56° W. The live bi­o­log­i­cal trac­ing agent Bacil­lus Glo­bigii and flu­o­res­cent par­ti­cles of zinc cad­mium sul­fide were sprayed over 60-mile by 3-mile paths and al­lowed to drift north­ward to­ward the tar­get de­stroyer ma­neu­ver­ing down through Pla­cen­tia Bay. While three Sky­hawks were used to spray the Bacil­lus Glo­bigii, a Dou­glas C-47 was used to dis­burse the flu­o­res­cent par­ti­cles of zinc cad­mium sul­fide. The me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal and ra­di­o­log­i­cal teams aboard that same air­craft stud­ied the speed, di­rec­tion, dis­per­sal time, and dis­per­sal lo­ca­tion of the aerosol clouds.

U.S. Navy of­fi­cials chose the USS Power (DD-839), un­der the com­mand of Com­man­der Arthur M. Hayes, USN, to be the tar­get ves­sel for Project Cop­per Head be­cause of its rapid ma­neu­ver­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, which was nec­es­sary to re­main in the path of the aerosol cloud if there were dras­tic changes in wind di­rec­tion.

Within a few days , some of the crewmem­bers of the USS Power started feel­ing the ill ef­fects of the aerosol spray in the form of colds, sore throats, and pneu­mo­nia. As time passed, var­i­ous kinds of can­cer, in­clud­ing some rare types, de­vel­oped and crewmem­ber be­gan dy­ing, a process that has ex­tended up un­til the present day.

On one par­tic­u­lar spray day, Com­man­der Hayes could not main­tain the Power’s po­si­tion un­der the aerosol cloud. A rapid change in wind di­rec­tion car­ried the aerosol cloud in­land along the west­ern sec­tion of the Avalon Penin­sula, over the Pla­cen­tia re­gion and north-north­east­ward to­ward Trinity Bay.

Within three years, the ef­fects were quite ob­vi­ous. In Jan­uary 1968, Dr. John Munro Ross, the chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer at Pla­cen­tia Cottage Hos­pi­tal, be­came acutely aware of the ab­nor­mally high num­ber of his pa­tients whose lab­o­ra­tory and biopsy tests were re­turn­ing with di­ag­noses of can­cers that were not symp­to­matic un­til in the ad­vanced stages. The types of can­cer he was see­ing were highly un­usual for the re­gion and some were ex­tremely rare.

By 1999, the Canadian Can­cer So­ci­ety was re­port­ing the Pla­cen­tia area was one of four “hot spots” in terms of can­cer and had the high­est rate for thir­teen types of can­cer and other dis­or­ders, es­pe­cially thy­roid dis­or­ders. The only group with a higher rate con­sisted of for­mer USS Power crewmem­bers who were still living and who had the ex­per­i­men­tal chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal, and ra­di­o­log­i­cal aerosol de­lib­er­ately sprayed on them.

I have a large amount of in­for­ma­tion about this topic in my re­search files but it would be too lengthy to in­clude in this let­ter to the edi­tor. Oh, one more thing! This year also marks the 50th an­niver­sary of Canada’s flag, which has a con­nec­tion to Project Cop­per Head and two U.S. mil­i­tary projects. I won­der does any­one know what that con­nec­tion is!

— Ed­ward Lake writes from St. John’s

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