At least a half-million Americans were targeted as guinea pigs - often without their knowledge - in U.S. Cold War weapons research, a congressional study said Wednesday.
That number does not include hundreds of thousands more who may have been accidentally exposed to chemical, germ, radiological and nuclear bomb test agents scattered by the wind.The study by the General Accounting Office, a research arm of Congress, was released during a hearing by the House Government Operations Subcommittee on Legislation and National Security.
Separate research by the Deseret News in recent years has identified at least 1,987 such ex-per-iments that affected Utah - including 1,174 open-air chemical arms tests at Dugway Proving Ground, 328 germ warfare tests there, 68 tests there that spread radioactive materials, 141 atomic bomb tests that released fallout upwind in Nevada plus other accidents and tests.
Subcommittee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., noted that much national publicity in the last year has resulted from disclosures about radiation testing on mental-health patients.
"But the radiation experiments are only part of the story. We have learned that during the Cold War, the Department of Defense and other government agencies also conducted chemical and biological warfare experiments on Americans, as well as tests with various drugs and incapacitating agents," he said.
Conyers added, "Because of security concerns, subjects of the Cold War era tests were often not informed that they were participating in an experiment, and in other instances were not fully informed of potential health risks."
Some tests mentioned in the new report - which tried to give an overview of all types of Cold War testing - were first disclosed in past years by Deseret News probes.
One was Operation Large Area Coverage, where Dugway researchers spread toxic cadmium sulfide over almost all of the states east of the Rockies in the 1950s to determine how germ weapons might spread. The GAO had no estimate of how many people it affected.
The Deseret News revealed those tests in 1991. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., called Wednesday for more disclosure of documents about the tests, which have caused an uproar in his home state. Congress this year also adopted funding for a study on the effects of the chemical.
Other tests previously disclosed by the Deseret News include a portion of "Operation Whitecoat." In 1955, it exposed 30 Seventh-day Adventist volunteers at Dugway to Q fever germs spread by a dust generator to see if they would develop the disease. They stood beside real guinea pigs and monkeys, and the germ clouds may have floated toward populated areas.
Some volunteers did develop the disease and were treated for it. But they later told the Deseret News they were not fully informed about what the tests sought to do.
The new congressional report said other portions of Operation Whitecoat were conducted on 2,200 subjects at Fort Detrick, Md., between 1952 and 1973.
Some of the other major experiments listed in the new report include:
- Atmospheric nuclear tests from 1945 to 1962 that exposed 212,000 Defense Department-related personnel to radiation at the Nevada Test Site and other locations. That does not count people downwind in Utah and other areas that were exposed to fallout.
- Army and Navy tests during the 1940s that used blistering agents and ointments on 60,000 subjects.
- Radiation exposure in the 1940s and 1950s by 195,000 U.S. soldiers occupying Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Army Chemical Corps tests from the 1950s to the '70s with nerve agents and psychochemicals such as LSD on 7,120 subjects. (Field testing using such agents also occurred at Dugway.)
- Naval Research Laboratory experiments that used 3,000 subjects for full-body exposure to mustard gas.
- Defense Department use of radium during the 1940s and '50s to treat nasal conditions on 7,600 service men and women.
- NASA radiological experiments during the 1950s and '60s that exposed 3,061 subjects.
The GAO and the subcommittee listed several other types of tests for which it had no estimates of how many people may have been exposed.
They included Army tests that used radioactive compounds in 239 cities between 1949 and 1969; CIA and Air Force tests that used LSD and other chemicals on several hundred subjects; and other Defense Nuclear Agency tests.
The GAO also said an unknown number of chemical arms tests were conducted under contract with universities and hospitals.
"In some of the tests and experiments, healthy adults, psychiatric patients and prison inmates were used without their knowledge or consent or their full knowledge of the risks involved," it said.
Conyers also said, "Sadly, this chapter from the Cold War is not over. Today, individuals who were injured in these experiments and their families are still trying to find the truth about what happened," and pledged help for them.