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DID SECRET RADIATION TESTS ON INMATES DOOM OFFSPRING?

SHARE DID SECRET RADIATION TESTS ON INMATES DOOM OFFSPRING?

Rosalie Jones still can't help crying at the grave of her baby who died 30 years ago.

She believes he was a tiny victim of secretive radiation experiments on her ex-husband when he was a Utah State Prison inmate. Prison officials confirmed this week that such tests occurred, reversing earlier statements."My ex-husband volunteered because they offered him $10 - which was a lot of money then (in 1961 or 1962) - plus some good-behavior time. They spent about a week at the old Salt Lake County Hospital," Jones said.

"When he told me it involved radiation, I worried it might cause cancer," she said.

"They took blood from his right arm. They told him it was then `radiated' and put it back in the artery in his left arm because they said it was nearest to the heart." He then had days of X-rays and blood tests.

Years later, Jones had a child born deformed, and he died quickly.

About the same time, the wives of two other inmates involved with the experiment also had babies born with defects - one with a brain that failed to develop beyond the stem, and both had open spines. They also died quickly.

Another former inmate, Cass Williams, says he was unable to even have children after the experiments. He suffers an unusual bone disease now, too.

The 10 or so men involved and their families now are the latest chapter of secret government radiation tests disclosed nationwide this year. But no documents have been found yet to show who conducted the tests, what materials were used, how dangerous they were - or what information was given about risks.

Evidence that the tests occurred comes from the mutual memories of those involved, plus confirmation from an ex-prison administrator.

Also, tests on prisoners in other states (which experimented on the male reproductive system) have been uncovered this year by a committee that President Clinton formed to investigate Cold War radiation tests on humans.

The Utah State Prison, the University of Utah (which received records from the old County Hospital) and the U.S. Army - which this month acknowledged it did radiation tests on civilian prisoners - are all searching records for mention of the tests at the request of the Deseret News but offer little hope of finding much.

"This happened before computers. All the records are on paper. They aren't indexed. And they may be scattered among boxes and boxes," said U. Health Services Center spokesman John Dwan.

He notes that the university did uncover another radiation experiment in a search it began a year ago for similar records - a 1956 test with the old Veteran's Administration where nine men (names unknown) were injected with radioactive strontium-85.

The university is now trying to identify them. It knows little else about that experiment.

The tests

Most of the inmates and their families - whose memories are a bit foggy after three decades - give similar versions of tests they say occurred in 1961 or 1962.

"Word just got around that they were looking for volunteers for a medical experiment, and that they would pay $10. That was a lot of money for a prisoner," said Ted Pacheco, who was among those interested.

"You had to go to the infirmary to get information." He said, "They said I would be injected with radioactive dye. . . . To be honest, I chickened out" - and he declined to participate.

An inmate who did participate - but who requests his name not be used now because neighbors and co-workers may not know he was a prisoner - said, "They took us to the old county hospital on 21st South and State. They gave us physicals. Then they took out about a pint of blood, `radiated' it and gave it back to us. They monitored us with X-rays and blood tests."

Similar versions of the tests were reported by Jones, Bernice Brogan and Joann Zerull - all of whose ex-husbands participated in the tests, and all of whom later lost children to birth defects.

Jones' ex-husband died in a fire a few years ago, and Brogan's ex-husband died in a murder - so neither could be interviewed. Zerull's ex-husband was interviewed on the condition that his name not be disclosed.

Jones said her ex-husband, Don Swensen, said about 10 men were involved in tests, and she has the names of seven. Three are dead. Two cannot be located. Two were interviewed. And Pacheco knew of the tests but did not participate.

Cass Williams, an inmate involved in such tests, has a somewhat different memory of them. He thought they occurred in 1956 (the same year as the other U. radiation tests with the VA) - but said he could be wrong and they may have happened in 1961 or 1962 as the others remember.

He also said he remembers a notice was put on a prison bulletin board seeking volunteers. He said he was also paid $25 for participating, and that he was transported to the county hospital only to receive injections - and was then taken immediately back to the prison.

Outside confirmation

State Department of Corrections spokesman Jesse Gallegos says a former prison medical administrator told prison officials that an outside agency in the early 1960s did approach inmates seeking volunteers for radiation tests.

Earlier, corrections officials had said its employees reported they had no knowledge of such tests - but the retired official later reversed that when questioned again.

Gallegos said the man, who is elderly, is in the hospital for treatment of heart problems and other ailments and that his family says he will not likely be available for further comment for a week or so.

Gallegos said because tests were conducted by another agency, the prison itself likely kept no records of them and has found none. But he said the prison believes inmates were informed of risks and participated voluntarily.

Prison officials said the former administrator also listed several U. doctors who he said were involved in the tests. Only one name was recognized by Dwan, the spokesman for the university Health Sciences Center - a "Dr. Wintrobe," described as a hematologist, or blood doctor.

Dwan said that may be Dr. Maxwell M. Wintrobe, a premier hematologist who was one of the founders of the university's medical school. "We even named a building after him," Dwan said. "He died five or six years ago."

Informed consent?

Even in 1961, scientific ethics required subjects of tests to be informed of risks they would face, and that their consent be obtained.

But one inmate said, "They told us nothing about the tests. They just said it wouldn't bother us. The more I think about it, the more I think they were just trying to pacify us."

Williams said, "They didn't tell us nothing - at least, not that I remember."

Some of the wives interviewed said their ex-husbands were informed at some point that radiation was used - but are not sure whether they signed consent forms.

"The men may have signed consent forms. But I didn't sign a consent form, and neither did the children" who died later from birth defects, Brogan said.

The results

Those involved wonder if health problems they suffered may have resulted from the experiments.

One inmate said, "Not long after the tests, I started getting violent headaches - which I had never had before - and have had them since. . . . I had heavy nasal drainage, and it's been going on ever since."

Brogan said her ex-husband told her that prison officials asked the group several months later if it wanted to participate in another round of tests - and all declined. "He said they all worried it had messed them up," she said.

Brogan, Jones and Zerull question whether the tests led to the birth defects and death suffered by their children.

"We had never had any birth defects in my family," said Brogan, whose child's brain did not develop beyond the stem. "I remember my ex-husband saying at the time that something bad in him was why his baby had died. I said no, but he may have been right. The radiation in his blood may have been what was bad in him."

Jones - whose baby was diagnosed with congenital lobar emphysema - said, "I remember my mother saying we were lucky nothing like this happened in the family before. When I think what may have caused it, it wasn't luck at all."

Zerull said her baby was born with hydrocephalitis and an open spine.

Williams said he was never able to have children after the tests. "My wife and I tried. And she had children in a previous marriage."

He is also suffering unusual diseases now and lives in a nursing home. "I am crippled. I can't walk. I've been diagnosed with every thing from the gumboo to bone disease. I have ribs that break for nothing and aren't healing."

Whether the tests may have caused such problems cannot be determined until information is obtained about what materials were used. Also, all involved said they were never given any follow-up exams for aftereffects.

Similar to other tests

Steve Klaidman, spokesman for the president's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, said it discovered that other prisoners were used in similar tests in the 1960s in Washington, Oregon, California and Missouri.

He said researchers named Carl Heller and Alvin Paulson were given permission by the Atomic Energy Commission to experiment on prisoners in Washington and Oregon to test radiation effects on testicular function.

"Both gave similar incentives (as the Utah tests). Prisoners were given $5 a month for participating, plus $10 for a biopsy, plus $100 for a vasectomy at the end of the experiments," he said. Such tests continued over 10 years and involved a combined 131 subjects.

He said no medical follow-up was ever given to prisoners. He said some sued but received only minor monetary rewards. He added, "The consent forms we've seen would not come close to passing muster today."

He said the committee also found evidence that the University of California conducted radiation experiments at San Quentin State Prison and that the Energy Department's Hanford, Wash., facility conducted some on prisoners in Missouri.

Klaidman also said the Army notified the committee it performed radiation experiments on civilian prisoners - but did not say where or when.

Because of radiation weapons tests earlier revealed at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, the Deseret News asked it if any records showed involvement in the Utah State Prison tests. A spokeswoman said only that hundreds of documents are already being searched for any mention of radiation tests under order of the Army and referred further inquiry to the Pentagon.

The Deseret News asked Pentagon officials to search for and provide any information the Army might also have regarding Utah prison experiments.

Why now?

Jones said she always wondered about the tests but decided to try to find out more this year after national disclosures about other radiation experiments - and after she bumped into Brogan and reminisced about their dead babies.

She wrote to Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, R-Utah; Utah Attorney General Jan Graham; President Clinton; the Energy Department; and Rep. Karen Shepherd, D-Utah. Most wrote her only form letters in return.

Jones and others then tried to interest two other local news organizations in their story. One never returned their calls. The other made some initial inquiries but decided against a story after prison officials originally told it no such tests had occurred. It told Jones if she could find documents about the tests, it would reconsider doing a story.

At Shepherd's suggestion, Jones then contacted the Deseret News - which began requesting documents on behalf of the inmates' families and began interviewing agencies that could have been involved.

"I have mourned over that child for 30 years," Jones said. "I still have a hard time at the cemetery. I tell myself every time that I won't cry. But I walk over to the grave, and the tears just start.

"I can't but help to think the tests killed him. Three of us had babies like that, and it has to be more than a coincidence. I just want to know what happened," she said.