In the 1950s, the government used secrecy and deception to collect human bones and tissue worldwide - including Utah - to measure effects of atomic fallout, new documents show.
That included collecting urine samples from Hill Air Force Base airmen and tissue from slaughterhouse animals in Salt Lake City - falsely claiming they were for "nutritional studies" - and a skeleton from a Utah stillborn baby, falsely claiming it was for a study on naturally occurring radon.Documents released Wednesday by President Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments also reveal government discussions about why it considered using civilian prisoners for radiation experiments - where some questioned if that wasn't as bad as human testing by the Nazis.
That might have had bearing on radiation experiments conducted on some Utah State Prison inmates, which the Deseret News revealed last year.
The new documents show that Defense Department and Atomic Energy Commission officials kept the true purpose of studies on radioactive fallout a secret - and one doctor even misled his own father, a diplomat, about them.
The AEC, as it collected animal and human tissue samples from around the world, told doctors and health officials that they were studying naturally occurring radon. In reality, they were looking for strontium-90, radioactive iodine or other products of atomic fallout.
"We actually are providing for the measurement of Ra (radium) as well as Sr-90 (strontium-90) in many of all of the samples, so that the Ra story is merely incomplete, not false," Robert A. Dudley of the Atomic Energy Commission Biophysics Branch wrote on Dec. 9, 1953.
Documents show that the real purpose of the tissue collection in "Project Gabriel" and "Project Sunshine" by the AEC was kept secret to all but a few of its top officials.
Dudley even wrote to Shields Warren, head of the AEC Division of Biology and Medicine, asking him to reinforce the cover story about the experiments with another doctor.
"I do not know how much you have told Dr. Farber about the chief purpose of the collection; therefore, I am afraid to approach him with the story on the foreign collections.
"Perhaps it would be best if you would speak with him again about the foreign samples, telling a story not in conflict with the one which we are using in our contacts," Dudley wrote.
Dudley even used his "incomplete" cover story about radium experiments in a letter to his father, who was associated with the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions. He sought assistance from his father's contacts in India to collect samples.
The AEC studies used the cover story to obtain samples from 20 foreign countries and numerous states, including Utah.
One document for Project Gabriel showed its scientists conducted tests on bones of a stillborn baby from Utah in February 1954 - and found strontium-90 levels that were 36 percent higher than the average found in 55 stillborns studied in Chicago.
The strontium-90 levels in the Utah stillborn were also five to 19 times higher than other stillborns studied from Massachusetts and India.
The Defense Department was, meanwhile, also using deception to develop its own worldwide network to collect human urine and animal milk and tissue in connection with its 1955 Operation Teapot atomic bomb tests in Nevada.
A Dec. 16, 1954, memorandum from the chief of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project said that, at least for animal sampling, "The actual data obtained are secret and the sample collection should be discreetly handled.
"It is suggested that a statement be included in the instructions to the effect that these sample are being collected for nutritional studies."
Milk and animal tissues were collected in 11 cities nationally under the program, including Salt Lake City. That included obtaining thyroids and ribs from veal calves - which along with milk samples could show traces of radioactive iodine and strontium-90. Samples were ordered from January to June 1955.
The military also ordered daily urine samples for 14 weeks from groups of soldiers and airmen stationed at 16 military bases - including Hill Air Force Base, which was downwind from atomic blasts.
Other documents give one of the few glimpses into joint AEC/
Defense Department discussions about whether to use humans in radiation experiments - specifically civilian prisoners.
Officials trying to develop a nuclear-powered airplane - which, of note, led later to eight small intentional meltdowns of nuclear reactors in the Utah desert - discussed the need to obtain more accurate data on effects of different levels of radiation.
An "Admiral Greaves" said that nuclear-airplane researchers needed subjects who would be under their control over a long period.
Dr. Alan Gregg, chairman of the AEC's Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine, asked him, "Is this civilian prisoners, you mean?" Greaves said yes.
"Doesn't that fall in the category of cruel and unusual punishment?" Gregg asked. Greaves said it wouldn't "if they would carry out the work as they proposed at the time they proposed it. It would be on an absolutely volunteer basis, and under every safety precaution that could be built around it."
Warren said, "It is not very long since we got through trying Germans for doing exactly that thing."
But Greaves said, "That wasn't voluntary when they did it. They made them do it. . . . I am given to understand that there are plenty of people in our prisons who will volunteer for that kind of work."
But Warren said, "Always for a quid pro quo" - or "something for something," such as an earlier release.
The Deseret News last year revealed several former Utah State Prison inmates said they were injected with radioactive substances for small payments and promises of "good time" toward release - and a former prison administrator initially backed those assertions.
The inmates blame birth defects and baby deaths among their children on those tests, as well as infertility and strange diseases among some participants.
The specific agency that conducted those tests is still unknown, although University of Utah doctors were said to be involved - so it is unknown whether tests were related to defense work.