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The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War Hardcover – October 19, 1999
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As World War II reached its climax, the U.S. push to create an atomic bomb spawned an industry the size of General Motors almost overnight. But a little-understood human dilemma quickly arose: How was all the radiation involved in building and testing the bomb going to affect the countless researchers, soldiers, and civilians exposed to it? Government scientists scrambled to find out, fearing cancer outbreaks and worse, but in their urgency conducted classified experiments that bordered on the horrific: MIT researchers fed radioactive oatmeal to residents of a state boys' school outside Boston; prisoners in Washington and Oregon were subjected to crippling blasts of direct radiation; and patients with terminal illnesses (or so it was hoped) were secretly injected with large doses of plutonium--survivors were surreptitiously monitored for years afterward.
It was these plutonium guinea pigs that set journalist Eileen Welsome on her decade-long search to expose this grisly chapter of America's atomic age, a feat that would earn her the Pulitzer Prize. In the impressively thorough and compelling Plutonium Files, Welsome recounts her work with a reporter's gift for description, characterizing early radiation researchers as "a curious blend of spook, scientist, and soldier," tirelessly interviewing survivors and their families, and providing social and political context for a complex and far-reaching scandal. Perhaps most damning is that not only did these cold-war experiments violate everything from the Hippocratic Oath to the Nuremberg Code, Welsome reveals, they were often ill-conceived, inconclusive, and repetitive--"they were not just immoral science, they were bad science." --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
In a deeply shocking and important expos?, Welsome takes the lid off the thousands of secret, government-sponsored radiation experiments performed on unsuspecting human "guinea pigs" at U.S. hospitals, universities and military bases during the Cold War. This riveting report greatly expands on Welsome's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 articles in the Albuquerque Tribune, which told how 18 men, women and children scattered in hospital wards across the country were injected with plutonium by U.S. Army and Manhattan Project doctors between 1945 and 1947. As Welsome demonstrates, the scope of the government's radiation experimentation program went much further. She documents how, between 1951 and 1962, the army, navy and air force used military troops in flights through radioactive clouds, "flashblindness" studies and tests to measure radio-isotopes in their body fluids. Additionally, she reveals that cancer patients were subjected to total-body irradiation, and women, children, the poor, minorities, prisoners and the mentally disabled were targeted for radio-isotope "tracer" studies, frequently without their consent and in some cases suffering excruciating side effects and premature deaths. In 1993, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary launched a campaign to make public all documents relating to the experiments, which had been kept secret. Welsome cogently argues that O'Leary's efforts resulted in a Republican vendetta that led to her ouster. Written with commendable restraint, this engrossing narrative draws liberally on declassified memos, briefings, phone calls, interviews and medical records to convey the enormity of the irradiation program and the bad science behind the flawed and dangerous testsAand to document the government's systematic cover-up. Anyone who cares about America's history, moral health and future should read this book. 8-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Why should I tell you the story? Read for yourself the shocking data that Eileen worked years to bring to light. Her documentation is awesome. Her research is air tight. If you're looking for the style of a real journalist, look no further. If you want history, unvarnished, you have found it. I purchased a copy from Amazon here to give to another colleague who had a friend who had been injected with the nasal radiation as a child. It will be both horrifying to find out what had happened to her, but also a relief to find out that she's not all alone.
In fact, if you read between the lines... or just read the research documentation at the back, you'll find out that we're all part of the Files... we're all a case study in exposure. Speaking of case studies... here's another primer in your learning about 20th Century and it's "cold" war... Under the Cloud: The Decades of Nuclear Testing Read Richard Miller's account and you'll be well rounded with these two books under your belt. Not enough? Need more atomic history about US? Try this one... Some places won't seem to be so friendly to live in after it: The Day We Bombed Utah . . . Here's one more: We Almost Lost Detroit.... Well, I think that's enough for today. Class dismissed.
President Clinton's 1995 declassification of human experimentation files confirmed that the U.S. Army Manhattan Project, the top-secret World War II machine that built the atomic bomb, engaged in human radiation experiments that remained classified for over half a century. The Manhattan Project became the civilian-run Atomic Energy Commission in 1947. Welsome writes that AEC research advanced nuclear medicine, but the aim of the military industrial complex was to establish occupational standards for defense industry workers exposed to highly toxic chemicals and radiation, and to help the Army, Navy and Air Force fight more effectively on the nuclear battlefield.
With over-all responsibility for making the atomic bomb, General Leslie R. Groves explained that in 1943, "The most urgent problem was to determine the toxicity of the materials we were using: primarily, uranium and plutonium compounds; the related heavy elements, such as radium, polonium and thorium; and certain accessory process materials, such as fluorine and beryllium. This required the study of the manner in which the materials might be introduced into the body, whether by ingestion, inhalation, skin absorption or in other ways."
During World War I, the U.S. War Department considered using "tetraethyl lead" as deadly nerve gas. After The Plutonium Files had been published, it was revealed that Medical Director of the Ethyl Corp., Robert A. Kehoe, M.D., principal defender of keeping highly toxic "tetraethyl lead" in gasoline, had joined forces with the AEC in 1946. This was an ideal arrangement because radioactive material, like lead from gasoline, was becoming a component in the bones of exposed U.S. citizens. Once lead (also strontium 90 from atomic testing) enters the bloodstream, the body mistakes it for calcium and incorporates it into bone and soft tissue. When Robert Kehoe investigated toxic workplace hazards - lead, benzene and fluoride - used to manufacture leaded gasoline, health data was passed on to those who owned the factories, but not to those who worked inside them. Kehoe collaborated with the AEC in order to protect defense contractors from worker injury lawsuits.
General Groves considered the potential of personal injury lawsuits as the most serious threat to the nuclear program. A secret AEC document, dated April 17, 1947, warned young radiologists, "It is desired that no document be released which refers to experiments with humans that might have an adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits. Documents covering such field work should be classified 'Secret.'"
Alluding to medical experiments conducted in the Nazi concentration camps, an editorial writer for the AMA wrote in 1946, "the medical profession in the United States would rally behind any enlisted officer who refused to conduct an unethical human experiment, even if ordered to do so by the 'highest political leaders.'" In the U.S. military today, it is emphasized that medical officers are "physicians first" - following the Hippocratic Oath - and "officers second" - meeting military needs. (NEJM September 11, 2008)
There is no evidence of American GIs being subjected to Nazi Germany's chemical or radioactive weapons during World War II; toxic exposure occurred back home in medical labs, U.S. bomb factories and uranium mines. During the Cold War, defense contractors systematically denied that working with the most hazardous materials ever known had made any workers sick enough to become a compensable occupational disease.
In the early days of the Cold War, Eileen Welsome reminds the reader that "twenty-three medical doctors, including Hitler's personal physician, went on trial for assorted crimes involving murder and torture performed in the name of medical science." Nevertheless, as a result of Operation Paperclip, doctors from Nazi Germany were recruited by the AEC to work in the USA. One senior American scientist described the AEC radiation experiments as having "a little of the Buchenwald touch."
In one of the most important books of the past century, The Plutonium Files emphasizes that AEC scientists deliberately "downplayed the amount of radioactive pollution emanating from the bomb factories and the health risks of fallout, reasoning that a few extra leukemias, bone cancers, or genetic mutations were an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect in the struggle against communism."
Thank you for the book. A great read!
All the best to you.
Vala in Tasmania..