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Conflict & Tragedy

Secret Army chemical/biological tests on US citizens revealed

A report recently surfaced about clandestine chemical and biological tests conducted on low-income residential areas in St. Louis, Mo., during the Cold War.

The Army has admitted to conducting these tests, which took place primarily during the 1960s and 1970s. However, it denies that any of the tests posed a danger to the population. These tests over St. Louis and other cities may have been the precusor to or part of an operation called, "Project 112/SHAD."

According to official government reports, the Army dusted several American cities and other areas with a compound called zinc cadmium sulfide. The secret tests were reportedly conducted to observe the behavior patterns of sprayed biological and chemical warfare agents. This compound was purportedly used due to its resemblance to certain chemical/biological agents.

The compound, according to the Army, is a chemical and bio-weapon simulant and posed no threat to those exposed to it. It should also be noted that Project 112/SHAD also used real biological weapons on service members as well as the simulant.

According to Medical Countermeasures, "Project SHAD, an acronym for Shipboard Hazard and Defense, was part of a larger effort called Project 112, which was conducted during the 1960s. Project SHAD encompassed tests designed to identify U.S. warships' vulnerabilities to attacks with chemical or biological warfare agents and to develop procedures to respond to such attacks while maintaining a war-fighting capability."

The site also said that, "Land-based tests took place in Alaska, Hawaii, Maryland, Florida, Utah, Georgia and in Panama, Canada and the United Kingdom."

Perhaps the most disturbing of these reports is the one conspicuously missing from the official Project 112/SHAD roster. St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor has done research into allegations that the U.S. Army also conducted similar tests as early as the 1950s. Martino-Taylor's research suggests that the Army conducted these tests using radiological material mixed in with the zinc cadmium sulfide compound.

Martino-Taylor's research also points out that these particular tests were confined to the poor and predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Although Martino-Taylor concedes she has no direct evidence that radiological materials were used, she has uncovered enough evidence to get the attention of Missouri Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt. McCaskill and Blunt have called for further investigation into the matter.

Although the official documents may be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, there is no mention of any test related to Project 112/SHAD being conducted in St. Louis. However, the National Academies cites a press release from 1997 concerning testing in St. Louis and other U.S. cities and in Canada. According to the release, no residents purportedly received any dangerous exposure to the zinc compound.

However, a National Academies study on the effects of exposure to zinc cadmium sulfide revealed that no extensive studies have been done to determine the long-term toxicity of the compound. A quick look at the constituent parts of the compound reveals some very interesting and concerning information:

  • Zinc is an essential trace element in the human body that is beneficial to good health in low doses. High dosages of the metal can affect the brain, muscles, bones, kidney, and liver along with the eyes and male prostate, as these are the locations in the body the metal will concentrate. Extremely high doses have been known to be fatal.
  • Zinc also has the ability to form several toxic compounds such as the herbicidal zinc sulfate.
  • Cadmium is listed by the State of New Jersey as a carcinogen. It is an extremely toxic substance that is also listed on the state's Special Health Hazard Substance List, due to its extreme toxicity even at low exposure rates. OSHA has set the maximum permissible exposure level at 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air, per 8-hour day for the airborne particulates.
  • An interesting note is that the reports described the sprayed compound as a fluorescent powder that showed up when exposed to special lighting. Cadmium sulfide is described as a yellow solid while cadmium sulfate is described as a white or colorless solid with fluorescent properties. Zinc sulfide is also transparent in its dense state and also has fluorescent properties.

Whether this is a pertinent observation concerning the nature of the exposure of the St. Louis residents is unknown at this time.

While the practicality of conducting a test to determine dispersion properties of a chemical or biological agent may be valid, the means by which these tests were conducted bring up some very troubling questions.

One thing that appears very apparent is that this compound was not selected based on how safe it was but rather its resemblance to the chemical and biological agents they wanted to simulate.

Could this explain why the test was conducted in the lower income and predominantly minority residential areas? How can there be an official report saying there was no danger from exposure when there has been no meaningful study on long-term effects? How could they conduct such tests without the knowledge or consent of those involved?

As Project 112/ SHAD shows, tests were later conducted on more than 5,000 service members using what appears to be the same or similar compound. If the purpose of the St. Louis test was only to test the dispersion rates of chemical agents, why only conduct the tests in those neighborhoods? Why not over the entire city like the other tests?

Although there is no information available immediately outlining the concentrations of the compound used, we see that at least for the cadmium it only takes a very small amount to cause health problems. The fact that the Army claimed they were unaware of the toxicity of the compound at first adds more fuel to the speculation that the St. Louis test could actually have been conducted surreptitiously for another purpose.

Perhaps the most troubling of all questions is if there is this much available evidence of covert tests conducted on the populace, what has not yet been brought to light?