Ef­fect of U.S. chem­i­cal dump on city un­clear

Book de­tails 1953 Cold War ex­per­i­ments on Win­nipeg

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - CAROL SAN­DERS carol.san­ders@freep­ress.mb.ca

INNIPEG was duped into be­ing a “guinea pig” for Amer­i­can chem­i­cal war­fare ex­per­i­ments in 1953, but no one knows what ef­fect it had on city res­i­dents, a Univer­sity of Man­i­toba phar­ma­col­ogy pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus says.

“It’s too late now to do any­thing about it or to know what health ef­fects it had on peo­ple,” Frank LaBella said Thurs­day of the aerosol cloud of zinc cad­mium sul­phide that was sprayed in Win­nipeg to test ways of dis­tribut­ing chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare agents.

The de­ceit­ful op­er­a­tion by the United States army came to light in 1980 and is back in the spot­light with the pub­li­ca­tion of a book by an Amer­i­can re­searcher that in­cludes de­clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion. Be­hind the Fog: How the U.S. Cold War Ra­di­o­log­i­cal Weapons Pro­gram Ex­posed In­no­cent Amer­i­cans, by Lisa Martino-Tay­lor, de­tails the test­ing car­ried out in cities in the U.S. and Win­nipeg (which re­sem­bled tar­get sites in the Soviet Union).

“No­body knew what was go­ing on,” LaBella said. In 1953, Win­nipeg city coun­cil was told civil de­fence au­thor­i­ties were test­ing the ef­fects of smoke over the city us­ing “harm­less flu­o­res­cent pow­der.”

In 1980, Cana­dian of­fi­cials con­firmed the U.S. Army Chem­i­cal Corps had co­or­di­nated

Wopen-air tests in Win­nipeg in 1953. They were try­ing to de­ter­mine how ra­dioac­tive fall­out from a nu­clear ex­plo­sion would be dis­persed by air cur­rents.

When the truth came out, LaBella told the Free Press, cad­mium and zinc are met­als and gen­er­ally con­sid­ered toxic and could be dan­ger­ous to the sick or those with asthma, and par­tic­u­larly to very young and old peo­ple.

The met­als are more dan­ger­ous when used in aerosol form and there have been a num­ber of deaths and re­ported cases of brain dam­age in in­di­vid­ual work­ers deal­ing with cad­mium sul­fide, the pro­fes­sor noted in a Free Press ar­ti­cle pub­lished 37 years ago.

To­day, LaBella is re­tired but he hasn’t for­got­ten — or for­given — au­thor­i­ties for their ac­tions.

“It prob­a­bly didn’t have much ef­fect,” he said of the ex­per­i­ments’ im­pact on pub­lic health.

“In prin­ci­ple, spray­ing an aerosol chem­i­cal mist over a pop­u­lated area is crim­i­nal, to say the least,” said LaBell, an neu­rophar­ma­col­ogy ex­pert. “At the time, there were no re­ports of ill­ness but, if present, they could not be dis­tin­guished from other ill­nesses. If there were last­ing ef­fects, we’ll never know.”

The Win­nipeg tests ran from July 9 to Aug. 1, 1953, and were ex­tended into Septem­ber 1953, au­thor Martino-Tay­lor re­cently told the Free Press.

“The Win­nipeg ex­per­i­ments were part of a larger 1953-54, three-city U.S. army Chem­i­cal Corps study that in­cluded Min­neapo­lis and St. Louis, which were iden­ti­fied by the U.S. army as ana­log cities for their ul­ti­mate ra­di­o­log­i­cal weapons tar­gets of Moscow and Len­ingrad,” she said.

Records show there were 12 tests, with 36 releases of ma­te­rial from air­planes and trucks cen­tral­ized 5.6 kilo­me­tres west of down­town Win­nipeg, said the so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at St. Louis Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Mis­souri.

The ex­per­i­ments were de­signed by Philip Leighton, the U.S. army’s top ex­pert in open-air ra­di­o­log­i­cal weapons, who ran Dug­way Prov­ing Ground in Utah, a fa­cil­ity that tested chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal, and ra­di­o­log­i­cal weapons.

Records show one year af­ter the ex­per­i­ments oc­curred, Leighton stated the test ma­te­rial called FP2266 was “poi­sonous” and had “toxic ef­fects,” Martino-Tay­lor told the Free Press. “Leighton said, ‘Com­pounds of zinc and cad­mium are both known to be poi­sonous when taken into the hu­man sys­tem. For this rea­son, the No. 2266 FP ma­te­rial is la­belled with a poi­son warn­ing when shipped by the man­u­fac­turer, and in ap­pli­ca­tions of the ma­te­rial the pos­si­bil­i­ties of toxic ef­fects must be con­sid­ered.’”

Martino-Tay­lor said she’s not an epi­demi­ol­o­gist and didn’t set out to study the po­ten­tial health ef­fects of the ex­per­i­ments. Rather than be­ing alarmed, peo­ple should be ask­ing for the re­lease of doc­u­ments into the pub­lic do­main re­lated to all open-air stud­ies con­ducted by Cana­dian or U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials.

The Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence pub­lic af­fairs branch did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. Man­i­toba Health Min­is­ter Kelvin Go­ertzen, “has re­quested a his­tory of this sit­u­a­tion from the depart­ment,” his spokes­woman said.

LaBella thinks it’s too late to do any­thing about it.

“There is noth­ing more to say ex­cept to em­pha­size the stu­pid­ity and crim­i­nal­ity of the fed­eral govern­ment to al­low the Amer­i­cans to use Win­nipeg as a guinea pig,” he said.

The at­ti­tude of the U.S. au­thor­i­ties then was “the area is out in the boon­docks, and its ci­ti­zens... what they don’t know won’t hurt them,” LaBella said. Ci­ti­zens duped

IN min­utes from the Feb. 2, 1953, Win­nipeg city coun­cil meet­ing, un­der the head­ing "In­ves­ti­ga­tion of Be­hav­iour of Smoke in Win­nipeg Area," a com­mit­tee rec­om­mended per­mis­sion be granted to the Metropoli­tan Civil De­fence Board to "un­der­take a se­ries of ex­per­i­men­tal tests in the Win­nipeg area to dis­cover the be­hav­iour of smoke in built-up ar­eas. This in­volves the re­lease of small quan­ti­ties of harm­less flu­o­res­cent pow­der at vary­ing in­ter­vals. The di­rec­tor ad­vises that the weather ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the tests would de­ter­mine the du­ra­tion of the ex­per­i­ments, the ex­per­i­ments should, how­ever, not ex­tend over a pe­riod of a few weeks."

In June 1953, re­porters at a news con­fer­ence were told the tests would de­ter­mine the prac­ti­cal­ity of cover­ing cities with a smoke screen to hide vi­tal in­stal­la­tions from en­emy bombers.

When a U.S. study was made pub­lic in

1980, it showed the Amer­i­can army planned to spray an aerosol cloud of pow­dered zinc cad­mium sul­phide in Win­nipeg to test ways of dis­tribut­ing chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare agents.

Lisa Martino-Tay­lor

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