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     MindNet Journal - Vol. 1, No. 10
     V E R I C O M M / MindNet         "Quid veritas est?"


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The views and opinions expressed below are not necessarily the
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Editor: Mike Coyle 

Contributing Editors: Walter Bowart
                      Harlan Girard

Assistant Editor: Rick Lawler

Editor's Note:

The following information was presented to the Advisory
Committee On Human Radiation Experiments, 1994.


Human Plutonium Injection Experiments

The Manhattan Project and Plutonium Health Hazards Discovered in
1941 by Glenn Seaborg and others at Berkeley, plutonium supported
nuclear fission, a process that split atoms and released
tremendous energy. Plutonium became an urgently needed material
for one variety of atomic bomb; uranium-235, the fissionable
isotope of natural uranium, was used in the other bomb type.

The first appreciable quantities of plutonium became available by
January 1944. At that time, Seaborg warned of its potential
health hazards and suggested immediate studies to learn its
biological behavior. This was a critical issue: the longer the
material stayed in the body, the more damage it could do.
Hundreds of workers would soon be exposed to plutonium, and
exposure standards were necessary. Overexposure would not only
hurt workers; it could compromise secrecy and disrupt production

About 10 percent of the plutonium supply was allocated for animal
studies in January 1944. By the summer of that year, those
studies provided enough information about plutonium retention to
justify removal of several Los Alamos workers with high previous
exposures from further work with the material. Los Alamos had
already had several accidental human exposures to plutonium, and
the imminent prospect of working with far larger quantities
increased the desire for even more metabolic information.

The early animal studies showed that different species excreted
known amounts of plutonium at different rates. This meant that
there was no accurate way to correlate animal excretion data to
humans. As a result, sentiment grew among project medical staff
to administer known amounts of plutonium to humans to derive
precise excretion data. However, it was not until the winter of
1944 that Los Alamos Health Group personnel developed methods to
detect tracer-level concentrations of plutonium in excreta. In
February 1945, this group, headed by Louis Hempelmann and
supervised by Wright Langham, used the procedure to monitor
workers for accidental plutonium uptake.

With a proven method to detect small amounts of plutonium in
excreta, Los Alamos personnel met on March 23, 1945, with Robert
Oppenheimer and Colonel Hymer Friedell of the Manhattan Engineer
District (MED) to discuss "the medical problems of this project
and their relationship to the Medical Research Program of the
Manhattan District." In a memorandum written three days after the
meeting, Louis Hempelmann stated that the Manhattan Project was
asked to consider "that a hospital patient at either Rochester or
Chicago be chosen for injection from 1 to 10 micrograms of
material [plutonium] and that the excreta be sent to this
laboratory for analysis." The Manhattan District was also asked
to help make arrangements for this "human tracer experiment."
Such arrangements were made, and an MED medical officer
administered the first human plutonium injection on April 10,
1945, at the Oak Ridge Hospital.

The Experiments, Part 1

How all the injections were coordinated or even if they were
coordinated is unclear. Following the Oak Ridge test, injections
were given at the Billings Hospital at the University of Chicago
on April 26, 1945, and at the University of California Hospital
in San Francisco on May 14, 1945. By late June, Manhattan Project
contractors at the University of Rochester's Strong Memorial
Hospital developed a detailed plan for "rapid (1 year) Completion
of Human Tracer Studies." These studies were to include
plutonium, uranium, polonium, and radioactive lead.

Over the next several months this plan was revised, and on
September 18, 1945, Wright Langham sent the most recent version
to Colonel Stafford Warren, Chief of the Manhattan District
Medical Section, noting that "you and Col. Friedell, will of
course, have final say as to whether or not the experiment goes
through in accordance with this plan." The Rochester plutonium
experiment protocol called for 10 subjects to be admitted to the
Strong Memorial Hospital metabolism ward in groups of four per
month for the first two months and two for the third month.

After injection, samples of blood, urine, and feces were to be
shipped to Langham at Los Alamos for analysis. Documents show
that, from October 1945 to July 1946, Rochester injected 11
patients. One of the later patients (designated as HP 11) died of
pneumonia and other preexisting ailments 6 days after his
February 20 injection. Samuel Bassett at Rochester described this
as an "acute experiment" that did not involve collection of
excreta, but that did yield organs and other autopsy material
that was sent to Los Alamos for study.

When notified of HP 11, Langham told Bassett, "If you should
decide to do another terminal case, I suggest you use 50
micrograms [of plutonium] instead of 5. This would permit the
analysis of much smaller samples and make my work considerably
easier." Langham also stated, "I have just received word that
Chicago is performing two terminal experiments using 95
micrograms each. I feel reasonably certain there would be no harm
in using larger amounts of material if you are sure the case is a
terminal one."

The two Chicago experiments took place at Billings Hospital on
December 27, 1945. Both subjects died of preexisting ailments
shortly after injections of 94.91 micrograms of plutonium.

Experimental protocols exist for the Rochester studies. Langham
and others who directed the research also described in broad
terms how subjects were to be selected. Generally, the choice
fell on older individuals (13 of whom were 45 or older) with
limited life expectancy. (Ten of the 16 who were tracked died
within 10 years.) Four subjects did, however, live more than 20
years after the experiments.

Although several research reports by others appeared earlier,
Langham and several colleagues at Los Alamos compiled the most
substantial account of the plutonium injection experiments. They
based their conclusions chiefly on the Rochester study. Issued as
Los Alamos report LA 1151 in September 1950, Distribution and
Excretion of Plutonium Administered Intravenously to Man
described the experiments, tabulated the data on plutonium
metabolism, and derived an empirical formula for calculating
retained plutonium from urinalysis. Although LA 1151 itself
remained restricted until 1980, information about the plutonium
studies made its way into the scientific literature shortly after
the injections took place.

The Experiments, Part 2

During the early 1970s, Patricia W. Durbin, a biophysicist at the
Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, reevaluated Langham's plutonium
excretion data. One reason Durbin could improve on Langham's
results was the unexpected availability of data from long-term
survivors. During her research, she learned that one subject had
lived for 20 years after being injected. Painstaking detective
work revealed that four other subjects were also still alive in
the early 1970s. With the AEC's approval, support from the Center
for Human Radiobiology at Argonne National Laboratory, and
cooperation from the University of Rochester's Strong Memorial
Hospital, three of the four survivors were reexamined in 1973.
Researchers gathered and promptly published new data on long-term
patterns of plutonium retention and excretion. Efforts to find
and study these surviving subjects ultimately triggered
controversy. In the time since the work had been done, the
Government had adopted requirements mandating that subjects give
informed consent as a condition of research. Questions arose
whether the plutonium subjects provided consent for the original
experiments or for the 1973 follow-up examinations. The ensuing
investigation resulted in two internal AEC reports issued in
August 1974. Both concluded that only one subject may have
provided any kind of consent. The other 17 participated with
little verifiable knowledge of the experiment or its risks.
Moreover, the reports found that the 1973 follow-up studies were
also not done with informed consent from the subjects. The three
subjects were not told they had been injected with plutonium for
experimental purposes, nor why they had been asked to return to
the hospital.

Although the AEC did not publicly release these reports, the
agency's successor, the Energy Research and Development
Administration, issued a fact sheet on the matter in 1976. This
issuance provided details on the experiments and briefly
discussed results from the 1974 AEC inquiry on informed consent.

The Plutonium Experiments and the Public

Publications based on the plutonium studies began to appear in
the medical literature as early as 1948. In several articles
during the 1950s and early 1960s, Langham explained the technique
for measuring excreted plutonium and referred to the validating
research on plutonium metabolism in humans. Some information,
however, remained classified for a number of years afterward.

The public first learned about experiments in 1976, after ERDA
issued the fact sheet noted above. Several newspapers carried
stories emphasizing the absence of informed consent and raising
questions about medical ethics, but the issue seemed to arouse
little public concern. Ten years later, a congressional committee
issued a report that criticized the plutonium injections and
about 30 other Federal human radiation experiments. Commonly
known as the Markey report after subcommittee chairman Edward J.
Markey (D-Mass.), this document again stimulated only limited
media attention at the time.

What the scientific literature and other information about the
experiments did not provide was the names of the subjects or
their personal stories. This approach was pursued by Eileen
Welsome of the Albuquerque Tribune, who in November 1993,
published a series on the experiments and its subjects. The
author had hunted through government reports, scientific
journals, and newspaper files to piece together facts about the
experiments, including the names and other personal details of
several subjects.

At a December 1993 press conference, Secretary of Energy Hazel
R. O'Leary discussed the plutonium experiments in conjunction
with releasing much formerly classified information on a variety
of subjects. As part of a new policy of openness, she also
committed the Department to revealing the full scope and details
of human radiation experiments done by the agency and its
predecessors. The story of the experiments received extensive
national attention and led to public demands that the Federal
government make full disclosure on the topics.

One year after the Secretary's commitment, the Department has
found, declassified, and made available much documentation
relating to the plutonium injections and other human radiation
experiments. Now under investigation by the Advisory Committee
on Human Radiation Experiments and others, this information will
provide the basis for a comprehensive ethical analysis of these

VERICOMM BBS filename: [humanplt.zip] = [humanplt.txt]

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