US Se­cretly Sprayed Car­cino­gens on Cana­di­ans Dur­ing Cold War

Trillions - - In this Issue -

A new book ex­plores how the United States se­cretly did ra­dioac­tive weapons test­ing on or­di­nary cit­i­zens dur­ing the Cold War.

The ex­per­i­ments in­volved the spray­ing of a ra­dioac­tive chem­i­cal fog filled with six kilo­grams of zinc cad­mium sul­fide. Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments stud­ied by Lisa Martino-tay­lor, a pro­fes­sor of so­ci­ol­ogy at St. Louis Com­mu­nity Col­lege, th­ese sprays were first ap­plied be­tween July 9, 1953, and Au­gust 1, 1953, from U.S. Army planes fly­ing over Win­nipeg, Man­i­toba. The ex­per­i­ments were re­peated in 1964, this time with the planes spray­ing over Suffield, Al­berta, and Medicine Hat, Al­berta.

In both cases, the lo­cal and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments ap­pear not to have been told what was go­ing on. The Canadian gov­ern­ment did se­cretly agree to the ope­nair ex­per­i­ments un­der an agree­ment co-signed with the United King­dom and the United States. It did not re­al­ize, how­ever, that cad­mium, a known car­cino­gen, would be ap­plied along with the ra­dioac­tive fog.

The pur­pose of the ex­per­i­ments is still not com­pletely clear at this point. The tests them­selves were de­scribed to some par­ties in­volved as bi­o­log­i­cal and chem­i­cal. Other in­for­ma­tion in the doc­u­ments Martino-tay­lor found sug­gests they were ac­tively merged with ra­di­o­log­i­cal com­po­nents to cre­ate weapons with sev­eral dif­fer­ent lethal com­po­nents in a sin­gle at­tack.

One spe­cific aspect of the test – and why air­borne spray­ing was used – does now seem to be bet­ter un­der­stood. It ap­pears that part of what the army wanted to un­der­stand was how ra­di­a­tion from a nu­clear at­tack on the Soviet Union might spread in wind cur­rents. The zinc cad­mium sul­fide (al­though it also in­cluded the cad­mium) was in­cluded to cre­ate a flu­o­res­cent tracer to study the move­ment of the ra­dioac­tive fog through the clouds.

An­other char­ac­ter­is­tic of the zinc cad­mium sul­fide par­ti­cles is that sci­en­tists had de­ter­mined they would likely prop­a­gate in the air in a sim­i­lar way to how bac­te­ria-laden par­ti­cles might move in a po­ten­tial germ-war­fare at­tack.

The chem­i­cals them­selves were de­signed to be odor­less and in­vis­i­ble to any­one with­out special gear de­signed to spot them. There were reports that in the sec­ond se­ries of spray­ings, the gas was in fact vis­i­ble, but that may have been more about the tracer con­tent than the dis­per­sal par­tic­u­lates them­selves.

The choice of Win­nipeg as a first tar­get was likely in part be­cause of its rel­a­tively high lo­cal pop­u­la­tion, with 300,000 peo­ple liv­ing there as of 1950, and be­cause it was ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated enough to study what hap­pened with­out con­cerns that the ef­fects of the fog would ex­tend be­yond that fo­cused tar­get area.

As to the dan­ger of what was sprayed, it may have been quite sig­nif­i­cant. Be­sides the ra­dioac­tiv­ity that was an im­por­tant com­po­nent of the test ma­te­ri­als, the par­ti­cles were small enough that they could have eas­ily lodged deep in­side the lungs of the un­know­ing vic­tims in­hal­ing the dust. That could have man­i­fested in any num­ber of highly-toxic long-term health dam­age to those who in­gested them, but the data on that was ap­par­ently never gath­ered.

The cad­mium it­self was also highly toxic. Chem­i­cally, it is a heavy metal with high va­por volatil­ity, which means it can read­ily dis­perse even with only mi­nor heat­ing or ab­sorp­tion of en­ergy, such as would have been the case in th­ese spe­cific ex­per­i­ments. Be­sides be­ing car­cino­genic, even small amounts of cad­mium can re­sult in nau­sea, pro­longed gas­troin­testi­nal prob­lems and vom­it­ing. In­gest­ing higher lev­els of the metal has been tied to bone loss and bone dis­eases such as os­teo­poro­sis and os­teo­ma­la­cia. Other stud­ies link the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of cad­mium in the body – which can eas­ily hap­pen be­cause of its pres­ence in cig­a­rettes, zinc by-prod­ucts, bat­ter­ies, in­dus­trial paints and even plat­ing ma­te­ri­als – to cataracts and the death of other cells within the eyes. In higher con­cen­tra­tions, cad­mium can lead to cat­a­strophic dam­age to the liver, kid­neys and heart and cause death even if the can­cer­ous im­pacts of the ma­te­rial are not taken into ac­count.

In com­ment­ing about the ex­per­i­ments, one woman who was on the ground dur­ing sim­i­lar aerial spray­ing in St. Louis, Mis­souri, did re­mem­ber be­ing coated with a fine pow­der after one of the ap­pli­ca­tions. She has suf­fered from breast, thy­roid, uter­ine and skin can­cers. An­other, also from St. Louis, was born in a build­ing where the pow­der was spit out into the air from its rooftop. Four of her 11 sib­lings later died of can­cer.

There may have been more lethal parts to the Canadian spray mix than even th­ese doc­u­ments dis­close. The U.S. Army had also sug­gested do­ing ex­per­i­ments us­ing ra­dioac­tive phos­pho­rus-32, or VX, a lethal nerve agent, in the same Suffield com­mu­nity. The Amer­i­can mil­i­tary was look­ing to pro­duce a

ra­dioac­tive nerve agent based on the com­bi­na­tion of the two sub­stances. There are also memos not­ing that the army had planned to ship 100 pounds of VX to Sh­effield.

That VX nerve agent is the same one iden­ti­fied as hav­ing killed Kim Jong Nam, the brother of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, in Fe­bru­ary of this year.

Other in­for­ma­tion shows that the United States was also look­ing to eval­u­ate us­ing “ra­dioac­tive tracer tech­niques in chem­i­cal weapons tri­als,” again as part of the same re­gional tests. There is also doc­u­men­ta­tion about a bac­terium that would be used as part of a bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare eval­u­a­tion in the re­gion.

The United States has a his­tory of con­duct­ing other ex­per­i­ments us­ing ra­dioac­tive, chem­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal agents, even on its own cit­i­zens, all in the in­ter­est of war­fare sci­ence. Ex­am­ples that Martino-Tay­lor cited in­clude:

the in­jec­tion of ra­dioac­tive par­ti­cles into hos­pi­tal pa­tients with­out their con­sent

hav­ing preg­nant women drink a ra­dioac­tive liq­uid to see how the ra­dioac­tiv­ity would be passed on to their ba­bies

giv­ing chil­dren ra­dioac­tive oat­meal as part of a “sci­ence club” ex­per­i­ment, with gifts to keep them in­volved and par­tic­i­pat­ing

Prior to the nu­clear age, the United States also con­ducted ex­per­i­ments on its own sol­diers, who vol­un­teered with­out know­ing in ad­vance what they would be ex­posed to. Dur­ing World War II, it ex­posed Amer­i­can troops to mus­tard gas and other chem­i­cal agents as part of a se­ries of tests to de­ter­mine how to make the dead­li­est ma­te­ri­als. There was also a hor­rific ex­per­i­ment de­signed to test the dif­fer­ences in ab­sorp­tion of the deadly gas based on the race of the per­son ex­posed. Th­ese ex­per­i­ments even­tu­ally in­cluded 60,000 en­listed men.

The U.s.-driven ex­per­i­ments stem from a de­ci­sion made by Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt – faced with con­cerns that an en­emy might de­velop bi­o­log­i­cal weapons and use them against the United States – when he au­tho­rized the U.S. Bi­o­log­i­cal War­fare Pro­gram as a counter-threat re­search ini­tia­tive. Zinc cad­mium sul­fide par­ti­cle dis­per­sal was a com­mon part of the ex­ter­nal test­ing, in part be­cause the ma­te­rial was in­ex­pen­sive and easy to track (be­cause of its flu­o­res­cence in the pres­ence of ul­tra­vi­o­let light) and be­cause of the re­ported false belief at the time that the chem­i­cal was not toxic to plants, an­i­mals and peo­ple. The U.S. test pro­gram even­tu­ally in­cluded more than 300 se­cret tests sim­i­lar to those car­ried out in Canada, with ex­po­sure hap­pen­ing at dif­fer­ent times of the day and un­der dif­fer­ent kinds of con­di­tions. In al­most all cases, there ap­pears to have been no no­ti­fi­ca­tion of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties that their cit­i­zens were be­ing used as guinea pigs.

Canada also con­ducted its own ugly mil­i­tary war­fare ex­per­i­ments in World War II in­volv­ing mus­tard gas. Like the ra­dioac­tive cloud ex­per­i­ments dis­cussed above, th­ese were also based in Suffield. Those tests were con­ducted on more than 3,000 mil­i­tary vol­un­teers.

Canada and the United States were not alone in such test­ing. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port en­ti­tled “Zinc Cad­mium Sul­phide Dis­per­sion Tri­als” and pre­pared by the Acad­emy of Med­i­cal Sciences for the United King­dom’s chief sci­en­tific ad­vi­sor, Min­istry of De­fense, the United King­dom was in­volved in such tests from 1953 to 1964. The nature of the ex­per­i­ments in­volved the re­lease of be­tween 0.35 and nine kilo­grams of zinc cad­mium sul­fide from ei­ther a sin­gle point source or a mov­ing ve­hi­cle, with the sec­ond op­tion sim­u­lat­ing what might hap­pen dur­ing an ac­tive en­emy at­tack. In all, an es­ti­mated 51 tri­als were con­ducted in the United King­dom dur­ing the 1953-1964 pe­riod, mostly at Por­ton, now a U.K. gov­ern­ment mil­i­tary sci­ence park lo­cated near Sal­is­bury in Wilt­shire, Eng­land. It is slightly north of Southamp­ton and on the south­ern coast of the coun­try. Other air­fields in the lo­cal area were also in­volved.

In the United King­dom, just as in the other cases, it ap­pears that the lo­cal pub­lic and re­gional of­fi­cials were not no­ti­fied of any of th­ese tests.

A ques­tion that lingers be­hind all th­ese ex­per­i­ments is why they were so ex­ten­sive, both ge­o­graph­i­cally and in num­ber. If it was sim­ply to do sim­u­la­tions to de­ter­mine the nature of how the tox­ins would be dis­persed, the num­ber of ex­per­i­ments in­volved seems much higher than would have been nec­es­sary to gather the ap­pro­pri­ate data. If, in­stead, the in­tent of the ex­per­i­ments was to de­ter­mine ex­actly what might hap­pen to peo­ple, an­i­mals and plants in the pres­ence of such sprays, the quan­tity of tests makes more sense. Ei­ther way, the nature of the test­ing, which took place over many places and for long pe­ri­ods of time, sug­gests a very dark ap­proach to the way in which at least three gov­ern­ments – the United King­dom, the United States and Canada – con­spired to poi­son large groups of un­sus­pect­ing civil­ians, all in the sup­posed in­ter­est of de­fend­ing their peo­ple from out­side threats.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.