Recognizing 50th anniversary of military experiment
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