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Government Conducted Human Experiments on Radiation Exposure

October 24, 1986 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal agencies conducted a 30-year series of radiation exposure experiments on human subjects, including injecting them with plutonium, radium and uranium, a House subcommittee said Friday.

The experiments took place all over the country starting in the mid-1940s and did not end until the 1970s, according to the report by the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy conservation and power.

The report, ″American Nuclear Guinea Pigs: Three Decades of Radiation Experiments on U.S. Citizens,″ is based on a review of thousands of pages of Department of Energy documents obtained by the subcommittee in the past three years. Experiments conducted by DOE’s precursers exposed hundreds of people to radiation, it concludes.

The experiments attempted to measure the biological effects of radioactive material, the doses from injected, ingested or inhaled radioactive substances, and the time it took radioactive substances to pass through the human body, the report said.

″American citizens thus became nuclear calibration devices,″ the report said. Some of them were willing subjects, the report said, but there is no record of informed consent for others. The subjects included prisoners, the elderly and the terminally ill.

The report says the government covered up the nature of the experiments to many families. It says some victims received doses 98 times the body burden recognized at the time the experiments were conducted.

″These experiments ... shock the conscience,″ subcommittee chairman Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in a letter to DOE Secretary John Herrington. ″Did the intense desire to know the consequences of radioactive exposure ... lead American scientists to mimic the kind of demented human experiments conducted by the Nazis?″ Markey said present public and scientific officials clearly are not responsible for the experiments, but maintained they represent a historical, institutional failure compounded by lack of follow-up.

He urged the department to try to find the living experimental subjects, look for increased incidence of radiation-associated diseases and compensate them for suspected damages.

The agencies sponsoring the experiments were, according to the report, the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration.

DOE spokeswoman Gail Bradshaw said subjects in plutonium injection experiments already have been followed up, but said she did not know if any other people are being tracked.

Bradshaw said information on most of the experiments has been available to the public for two years, but said the Markey subcommittee may have had access to other documents.

Markey’s press secretary, Raoul Rosenberg, said most of the material has not been publicly available or publicized. He said the subcommittee report is the first systematic, comprehensive examination of what happened across the nation over three decades.

Among the experiments cited in the report:

-57 normal adults fed radioactive uranium and manganese spheres at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in the 1960s.

-20 elderly adults fed radium or thorium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1960s.

-18 people diagnosed as terminally ill injected with plutonium as part of the Manhattan Project 1945-47; the experiments were carried out at hospitals in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Rochester, N.Y.; Chicago and San Francisco.

-6 patients with good kidney function injected with uranium salts at University of Rochester during 1946-47. One was hallucinatory, another emotionally disturbed and another homeless.

-131 inmates at Oregon and Washington state prisons received x-rays to their testes from 1963-1971.

-12 terminal brain tumor patients at Massachusetts General Hospital, most of them comatose or semi-comatose, injected with uranium from 1953-57.

-Radioactive iodine deliberately released seven times from 1963-65 at Atomic Energy Commission National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho. Experiments included having seven people drink milk from cows that had grazed on contaminated land; placing people in pastures during radiation release.

-20 people exposed to beta rays at Clinton Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., May 1945.

-14 people exposed to tritium by breathing, immersion or ingestion in Richland, Wash., 1951-52.

-102 people fed real fallout from Nevada test site, simulated particles containing strontium, barium or cesium, or solutions of cesium and strontium, 1961-63 at University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.

-54 hospital patients with normal intestinal tracts fed lanthanum-140, Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies, early 1960s.

-12 terminal cancer patients at Columbia University and Montefiore Hospital, the Bronx, injected with radioactive calcium and strontium, late 1950s.

-14 subjects injected with or drank radioactive promethium at Hanford Enviromental Health Foundation and Battelle Memorial Institute in Richland, Wash., 1967.

-10 people injected with radioactive phosphorus or fed Columbia River fish contaminated with radioactive phosphorus, 1963.

Bradshaw said federal energy agencies were concerned at the time of the experiments with dozens of workers who were dealing with nuclear materials.

″They felt that they needed information on human reactions rather than animal reactions in order to set standards and working conditions to protect the workers,″ she said.

″I don’t think you’d see the same studies done today,″ Bradshaw said, citing increased knowledge about radiation and different attitudes in society and within DOE.