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Several soldiers who had also partic.i.p.ated in Operation Plumbbob happened to see Cooperas interview on television. One was Charles Broudy, a retired Marine Corps major from California who was dying of lymphoma. Broudy was a highly decorated pilot with a deep loyalty to the Marine Corps. Nevertheless, he recognized immediately that Cooper was on to something. That evening he called Cooper in Salt Lake City. Cooper advised him to file a claim as soon as possible with the Veterans Administration.
Broudy followed Paul Cooperas advice, but his claim was denied by the VA. He appealed the denial, but before a decision was rendered, he died. aHe was a very loyal Marine but I was not a happy Marineas wife,a said his widow, Pat Broudy.35 The dying Marine had urged his wife to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government. Eventually she filed two lawsuits. Both were dismissed, but her legal effort attracted the attention of thousands of veterans who had partic.i.p.ated in the atomic maneuvers.
Broudy began making numerous television appearances with Orville Kelly, an Army sergeant who had witnessed some two dozen detonations and was suffering from lymphoma. When he was too weak to make any more television appearances, he returned home and formed the National a.s.sociation of Atomic Veterans. Pat Broudy became a member of that group and also helped form the National a.s.sociation of Radiation Survivors. For two decades she has been lobbying Congress for compensation for the atomic veterans and has helped many individual veterans with their claims.
Paul Cooperas story caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Investigators there did an epidemiological study and discovered there was indeed an excess of leukemias among the partic.i.p.ants of Operation Plumbbob. Cooperas story also prompted a remarkable hearing on Capitol Hill in 1978. For perhaps the first time in history, the civilian and military officials responsible for the nuclear weapons program were put on the defensive as congressmen Paul Rogers, a Democrat from Florida, and Tim Lee Carter, a Democrat from Kentucky and medical doctor whose son had died of leukemia, peppered them with questions about the atomic maneuvers.36 The congressmen also delved into the efforts by the weaponmakers to quash reports on excess cancer rates among nuclear workers and the dangerous effects of low-level radiation. The testimony from representatives of the Defense Nuclear Agency and its related organizations revealed how reckless and haphazard the testing program was. The officers didnat know what groups partic.i.p.ated in the tests or where records were stored. After the committee had heard hours of testimony, U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, observed, aIt seems the Army sent men out to be exposed to radiation dangers and did not advise thema"if that was the casea"that they were subjecting themselves to possible health hazards.37 Then afterward the Army denied any liability for it because it did not seem to fit into their plans.a A strong gra.s.sroots movement was triggered by the 1978 congressional hearing. Thousands of atomic veterans, or their widows and-children, began demanding more information on the testing program. Nuclear workers and people who lived near weapons sites also became concerned about radioactive contaminants. The following year an accident occurred that dealt a severe blow to the civilian nuclear power industry and further encouraged antinuclear activists.
On March 28, 1979, the cooling system of one of the reactors at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, malfunctioned. As radioactive gases spewed into the atmosphere, the governor ordered pregnant women and children living near the plant to leave. Utility officials worked frantically to dissipate a huge hydrogen bubble which had formed inside the reactor and threatened to explode. Although utility officials managed to bring the situation under control, the Three Mile Island incident provoked worldwide demonstrations against nuclear power. Coincidentally, just two weeks before the crisis developed, the movie China Syndrome had been released. The film, which starred Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas, revolved around efforts by utility executives to suppress news of an accident that almost resulted in a core meltdown at a fictional nuclear power plant near Los Angeles.
Not long after the Three Mile Island accident, Howard Rosenberg, a reporter working for muckraking columnist Jack Anderson, began digging into the total body irradiation studies at Oak Ridge. Using the Freedom of Information Act, he gathered hundreds of doc.u.ments and wrote an investigative article about the experiment that was published in 1981 in Mother Jones magazine.38 aIt took eighteen months before I wrote a word,a he told a journalist.39 Rosenbergas piece centered around a little boy named Dwayne s.e.xton who had leukemia and died in 1968. The child actually underwent two experimental treatments. The first was an unproven therapy in which bone marrow from the child was removed, irradiated to kill leukemia cells, and then reinjected in the mother. Two weeks later, serum from the mother was reinjected back into the child with the hope that antibodies built up in the motheras blood might kill the childas leukemia cells. The experiment failed and the child was soon given traditional chemotherapy drugs. He lived for another three years before he had a severe relapse. At a loss over what to do, Oak Ridge doctors irradiated him in METBI, the Medium Exposure Total Body Irradiator. He died less than a month later.
The Mother Jones article triggered a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Vice President Al Gore, then a young congressman from Tennessee, chaired the hearing and soon zeroed in on the key issue: aNow the critical question, again, around which this entire investigation revolves is were the treatments for the patients altered in order to satisfy or facilitate the acquisition of the data?a Gore had pinpointed the conflict inherent in all the dual-purpose radiation experiments carried out during the Cold War.40 In other words, did the experiment benefit the patient or the agency that funded it? The ACEas Carroll Wilson had tried to address the conflict in 1947 when he instructed scientists that no radiation experiment should be carried out unless it held therapeutic promise for the patient. But Wilsonas directive, as well as other established rules and ethical guidelines, had taken a backseat during the Cold War.
Gore questioned Clarence Lushbaugh about a statement in which he disclosed that the doses being given to cancer patients in the low-exposure chamber had no therapeutic value but were aradiobiologically of great interest.a aIt is a provocative quotation,a Gore continued, abecause at a time when NASA was becoming more interested in the smaller and smaller doses, a couple of patients were given smaller and smaller doses.a4142 Lushbaugh could not explain his remarks, but in a follow-up letter, he said the low doses were given to two patients to accommodate their schedules.
Although Goreas committee eventually issued an equivocal statement noting that the experiments were asatisfactory, but not perfect,a the information that came out during the hearing was extremely damaging.43 The highly embarra.s.sing internal reviews about the Oak Ridge hospital were put into the record, and NASAas involvement was fully doc.u.mented.
In subsequent years various people around the country began delving into the human radiation experiments. In Cincinnati David Egilman, a medical doctor, and Geoffrey Sea, an activist, started looking into Saengeras project and other experiments on employees at a uranium production facility near Fernald, Ohio, that was given the misleading name of the Feed Materials Production Center during the Cold War. In Tennessee, Cliff Honicker, a young student working on his masteras thesis, discovered a cache of extraordinary doc.u.ments written by Stafford Warren. The file contained records on more than two dozen people, including Allan Kline, one of the victims of the 1946 Los Alamos criticality accident.44 The Atomic Energy Commission apparently had asked Warren, whose fear of lawsuits bordered on an obsession, how to proceed with the claims.
Honicker, Sea, and several other activists and union representatives then met with staff members of Richard Ottinger, a New York Democrat who in the spring of 1984 chaired the House Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Power.45 Ottinger, a member of the subcommittee that had grilled the military representatives on the atomic maneuvers six years earlier, initiated an investigation into the human radiation experiments.
More than two years pa.s.sed while subcommittee staffers collected information. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Ma.s.sachusetts, became chairman of the subcommittee in January of 1985 and continued to press the DOE for doc.u.ments. Finally, in November of 1986, the subcommittee released a report on thirty-one human radiation experiments involving nearly 700 people.
The plutonium injections were the first experiment described in the report. Also included was a brief description of the testicular irradiation studies, the cloud fly-through experiments, and numerous fallout studies. Although the experiments described in the Markey report represented only the tip of the iceberg, the report nevertheless represented the first time any comprehensive effort was made to examine the experiments. The study correctly noted that the government covered up the evidence of many of the studies from the victims or surviving kin and that informed consent often was not obtained. aAlthough these experiments did provide information on the retention and absorption of radioactive material by the human body, the experiments are nonetheless repugnant because human subjects were essentially used as guinea pigs and calibration devices.a46 Although Markeyas report was explosive, it received only cursory media coverage. The wire services reduced it to a several-hundred-word report.47 Many of the major papers ran the story on their inside pages or not at all. The report had not identified any of the subjects, and without the ability to convert statistics into names and faces, the story seemed little more than a bizarre collection of events that had occurred in the distant past.
Markey urged the DOE to make every effort to find the experimental subjects and compensate them for damages. But his instructions were blatantly ignored by DOE officials who were confident that if they stonewalled long enough the controversy would blow over. Department of Energy officials not only knew who had conducted the experiments, but the names of some of the subjects. As of November 1986, they knew, for example, that Elmer Allen was still alive in Italy, Texas.48 The other three long-term survivors had pa.s.sed away the previous decade. Janet Stadt, who had not partic.i.p.ated in the follow-up studies, died in a nursing home on November 22, 1975. She had metastatic cancer of the larynx as well as far-advanced scleroderma and had lived for nearly thirty years after she had been injected with plutonium.49 Eda Schultz Charlton, the lonely housewife who had been misdiag-nosed and injected with plutonium on a wintry day in 1945, lived for thirty-seven years with the radioactive material circulating in her body. She died on January 24, 1983, but the governmentas interest in her case continued. Two years after her death, Argonne officials were still trying to obtain X rays from her physician. aI explained how important these X-rays are to the study and he promised to see if he could have them sent to us on loan,a wrote an Argonne official in an April 18, 1985 memo.50 John Mousso died at home on April 6, 1984. Given a aterminala prognosis by the Manhattan Project doctors, Mousso carried plutonium in his body for thirty-eight years and outlived his beloved wife, Rose. According to his death certificate, he died after suffering from a ma.s.sive cerebral hemorrhage.
As for Elmer Allen, there was no pot of gold waiting for him, no government men who came to Italy in his waning years to try to make good. He lived almost another five years after the Markey committee published its findings. He spent some of his last days at Italyas nursing home, a quiet place shaded by a large cottonwood tree. There among the other aged residents, the cheerful nature of the amputee described by surgeons so many years earlier was still evident. aI knew he didnat want to be here, but he wasnat mean to us because he didnat want to be here.51 He tried to do quite a bit of stuff for himself,a said Alithea Brown, a licensed vocational nurse at Italyas Convalescent Center. She added, aHe wasnat a conversation starter. He would talk to you if you talked to him. I just never asked him how he lost his leg.a Elmer died on June 30, 1991, of respiratory failure caused by pneumonia. He was eighty years old. On his death certificate, his occupation was listed as Pullman porter.
Elmer Allen, John Mousso, and Eda Schultz Charlton had managed to outlive many of the experimenters. Stafford Warren, the architect of the injection study, was quieter than usual when a small group of friends gathered in his southern California home in the summer of 1981 to help him celebrate his eighty-fifth birthday.52 Five weeks later, after spending a few relaxing days at his mountain retreat, he told his second wife that he felt a little weary and wanted to take a nap instead of eating lunch. On the afternoon of July 26, he died in his sleep.
Shields Warren, who had replaced him when the AEC came into being, tended an oyster farm on his beloved Cape Cod after he retired.53 He, too, had died in his sleep, one year earlier, on July 1, 1980.
aWEaRE COMING CLEANa
Hazel OaLeary looked every inch the establishment lawyer when she appeared for her confirmation hearing before a Senate committee in January of 1993. President Clinton had nominated her as his new energy secretary, but no one knew much about her except that she had been a utility executive at Northern States Power Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and had worked decades ago in the administrations of Presidents Ford and Carter. She was an African American, fifty-six years old, married three times, with a bacheloras degree from Fisk University and a law degree from Rutgers.
Sounding like a Republican, OaLeary emphasized her experience in both the private and public sector, pointing out how poorly crafted regulations could negatively impact jobs and the economy. In soothing corporate tones, she told the senators of her plans to integrate and balance the aThree Esaa"energy, the environment, and the economy. aWeave got to do it all,a she said.1 aFemale and black, she was a walking advertis.e.m.e.nt for diversity, which Clinton made a very public priority,a Rolling Stone magazine later wrote.2 aThat, combined with the apparently last-minute, second-string quality of her selection, all but howled of tokenism.a As OaLeary spoke to the committee members, her long hands moved in graceful circles. She had light skin, and her face and neck were smooth and nearly free of wrinkles. Her language often slipped into corporatese but that habit was barely noticeable because of her ability to connect with audiences. Although she had no experience in the nuclear weapons field, which gobbled up 70 percent of the Department of Energyas budget, the committee was impressed by her presentation, and two days later she was confirmed by the full Senate. With her silvery wedge cut and silky designer suits, OaLeary didnat look like a revolutionary who would send shock waves through the Department of Energyas fossilized nuclear weapons establishment. But thatas exactly what she did.
Born in 1937, a year when many of the great physicist-refugees from Europe were already at work in the American laboratories that would become part of the Manhattan Project, OaLeary was a member of the first generation of Americans who grew up with the knowledge that annihilation of the human race was possible. She was a child when two atomic bombs were dropped on j.a.pan, a teenager when the first atmospheric detonation took place in Nevada, a young housewife entering Rutgers when atmospheric testing finally stopped.
But it wasnat the Cold War that shaped her political views. She was a black child raised in the South, and the most powerful influences on her life were segregation and the civil rights movement.3 Newport News, Virginia, the mosquito-infested city where she grew up, was a athoroughly and severely segregated societya until the 1960s, novelist William Styron once said.4 aIt was a world apart.a There were separate birth announcements for whites and aNegroesa in the local newspapers, separate schools, churches, restaurants, and shops.
OaLeary was buffered from the harsh realities of segregation by her familyas affluence and the vigilance of both her parents. Her father, a surgeon, chauffeured her and her sister to their after-school activities. Her stepmother, a schoolteacher, carefully planned shopping trips for them to aOvertown,a the white business center in Newport News early in the day. aIt was because in those days black women couldnat try clothes on.5 But we had this privilege as doctorsa daughters. We could try them on during off hoursa"if n.o.body saw us,a she told a journalist.
But with the special status came the burden of expectations. OaLeary would have to be a shining example of her race. aMy parents taught me that if you were reverent, honorable, clean, well-educated and smelled gooda"for some reason smelling good has always been important to my [stepmother]a"you could transcend any obstacle,a she said in another interview.6 With her appointment to President Clintonas cabinet, OaLeary had fulfilled everything anyone could have expected of her. But her work as energy secretary was just beginning. She soon learned that the agency she was charged with overseeing, the Department of Energy, was one of the most wasteful and distrusted bureaucracies in the federal government. During its fifty years of operation, the weapons complex had manufactured tens of thousands of warheads and detonated more than one thousand bombs. The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project, a four-year research project directed by Stephen Schwartz, a guest scholar at the Brookings Inst.i.tution, estimated that the U.S. nuclear weapons program cost taxpayers some $5.5 trillion in 1996 dollars.7 Although bomb makers recognized as far back as 1948 that disposal of radioactive wastes presented the agravest of problems,a they focused only on the arms race against the Soviet Union and pa.s.sed the daunting and unglamorous task of cleanup to future generations.8 By the mid-1990s, many facilities in the weapons complex had been shut down because of health and safety dangers. Plutonium, uranium, and other fission products had leaked into the groundwater and soil surrounding the plants and laboratories. A paper prepared by the DOE summarized the problems that existed at the beginning of OaLearyas tenure: a the inheritance of 1993 was a work force committed to maintaining a nuclear deterrent capability that did not take into account the Cold War had ended; programs devoid of focus on the challenges and opportunities presented by the global marketplace; years of a command and control management style; a monumental Cold War legacy of nuclear waste and environmental degradation at the former weapons sites; secrecy that acted as a cloak to evade accountability to the American public; and a deteriorating environment reflected in part by a global warming that threatened the nationas health, its environment and its economy.9 The elaborate efforts by the DOEas predecessors to protect the agencyas prestige and avoid public relations debacles had backfired with a vengeance. The credibility gap opened in the mid-1950s when serious concerns were first raised about the effects of fallout from atmospheric testing. Scandal after scandal ripped through the nuclear weapons complex. The defensive strategy was almost always the same: Deny the charges, cla.s.sify the data, and destroy the reputation of the accuser. The modus operandus was developed by the veterans of the Manhattan Project and handed down from bureaucrat to bureaucrat in each of its successor agencies: the Atomic Energy Commission, the Energy Research and Development Administration, and, finally, the Department of-Energy.
OaLeary, the first woman and the first African American to serve as energy secretary, waded fearlessly into the departmentas macho world of nuclear weapons, a rarefied domain in which only a handful of women had succeeded in penetrating the uppermost ranks in fifty years. She was a striking contrast to her predecessor, Admiral James B. Watkins. She swore prodigiously, sweated in a noontime aerobics cla.s.s, and was seen around headquarters from time to time in pink Lycra pants. A quick study, OaLeary had the ability to zero in on key issues during staff meetings. She was also imperious, egotistical, and sometimes difficult to get along with. aShe could cut your legs off and you wouldnat even know it until you walked out of the room,a said one staffer.
Just a few months after her swearing-in, OaLeary was asked to sign off on a doc.u.ment that would have given the green light for an additional fifteen underground detonations at the Nevada Test Site. Even though atmospheric testing had stopped in the 1960s, underground explosions had continued for the next three decades. In all, some 1,030 nuclear weapons had been exploded either above or below the ground. The last underground bomb, Divider, was detonated on September 23, 1992, just four months before OaLeary arrived.10 OaLeary was hesitant to approve the tests and went to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to find out if they were necessary. aShe had the courage, as I understand it, to go down to the Pentagon, to essentially go to the Joint Chiefs and say, aHey, why should we do this?a a Ray Kidder, a retired nuclear weapons designer from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, recalled.11 OaLeary then summoned the directors of the nationas weapons labs and several outside arms control experts to Washington for a top-secret meeting on May 18 and May 19, 1993. The meeting was held in a tomblike room known as a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, located in the bas.e.m.e.nt of the DOE headquarters. There, in the windowless, carpeted room that radio transmissions could not penetrate or escape, the weapons experts gave their opinions. aIad characterize it as a Quaker meeting in the sense there was lots of time,a said Frank von Hippel, a respected physicist from Princeton University who attended.12 Following the meeting, OaLeary and her staff concluded the tests werenat needed. When she recommended they be canceled, President Clinton agreed with her and announced the indefinite extension of the testing moratorium on July 4, 1993. Although the bomb builders now knew that this energy secretary was different from any who had ever occupied the seventh-floor suite of DOEas headquarters in downtown Washington, the public would not have occasion to find out for another few months.
The test ban victory notwithstanding, OaLeary recognized that if she was going to succeed in making any permanent, long-term reforms, she would have to begin by reversing the aculture of secrecya that had been created by the Manhattan Project. That meant, among other things, decla.s.sifying doc.u.ments and revising the long-standing practice of com-partmentalizationa"the old idea promulgated by General Leslie Groves that workers should know only what they need to know to do their jobs and nothing more. Grovesas policy was beginning to backfire. As Jim Werner, director of strategic planning and a.n.a.lysis in DOEas Environmental Management Office, put it, aThe way secrecy works is you have to compartmentalize so that people know what they need to know and nothing more. When trying to clean up a nuclear weapons site, thatas just not very helpful.a After five decades of indoctrination, though, the culture of secrecy was an integral part of the department, like the recycled air that streamed through vents at its headquarters in downtown Washington or its ancillary headquarters in Germantown, Maryland, which was built in the mid-1950s to ensure that the important functions of the AEC would continue even if the Capitol was flattened by an atomic attack.
Wanting to let some fresh air in, OaLeary made both sites more accessible to the public. She disarmed the security guards who stood at the entrance to the buildings, giving them billy clubs instead of guns. She also eliminated the requirement that they escort visitors to their destinations and to the bathroom (a policy that is still in place at other DOE facilities and at the nationas weapons labs). The gla.s.s doors in the hallway leading to her suite were thrown open, the security officer who guarded the corridor was clothed in a dark business suit instead of a uniform, and benign images of windmills and other renewable energy sources replaced the doomsday photos that once lined the walls leading to the inner sanctum. As a sign of her intentions, OaLeary also changed the name of the Office of Cla.s.sification to the Office of Decla.s.sification and instructed A. Bryan Siebert, the director, to develop a plan for making more doc.u.ments available to the public. Siebert readily embraced OaLearyas orders: aI have been in the program for twenty to thirty years and it has been clear to me that cla.s.sification has been used against the public time and again.13 I thought it was wrong,a he said.
Siebert spearheaded the effort to decla.s.sify and review some 3 million doc.u.ments. The decla.s.sification effort was greeted with resistance, even outright hostility, by some of DOEas entrenched bureaucrats. Some viewed it as a threat to national security; others as a threat to themselves. aThey acted as if something personally were being taken away from them,a Siebert recalled.14 When Siebert and his team of reviewers began examining the files, they discovered a vast amount of information that could be released to the public without threatening national security or divulging important nuclear data. Page by page, DOEas decla.s.sification experts began poring over the doc.u.ments, making sure the records earmarked for release contained no information that could help anyone build a bomb. As the months pa.s.sed, the pile grew.
On December 7, 1993, almost a year after she had been named energy secretary, OaLeary invited reporters to a press conference in the auditorium of the DOE headquarters. On the podium behind her was the first stack of newly decla.s.sified doc.u.ments. It was the first of several aOpenness Initiativea press conferences held by OaLeary, and it catapulted her from a relatively obscure member of President Clintonas cabinet into one of the highest-profile figures of his first administration.
With a bank of cameras pointing at her on that cold December morning, OaLeary made a conscious effort to break with her predecessors, a line of steely-eyed patriots that stretched back to Leslie Groves. aWe were shrouded and clouded in an atmosphere of secrecy.15 I would even take it a step further and call it repression,a she began.
Trim and confident looking, OaLeary paced back and forth across the stage, pausing occasionally to put up a transparency on an overhead projector to emphasize a point she was making. aThe Cold War is over aweare coming clean,a the first transparency announced. In the s.p.a.ce of an hour or so, OaLeary disclosed many of the secrets that the DOEas predecessors had struggled to keep under wraps for decades. Among them were the following: Weapons scientists had exploded 204 more nuclear bombs, or 20 percent more weapons, than the figure previously made public; nearly three-quarters of a million pounds of mercurya"the equivalent of some 11 billion thermometersa"had been dumped into a creek in Oak Ridge; the United States had manufactured eighty-nine tons of plutonium during the Cold War.16 Many tons of the highly radioactive material were stored at various research sites across the country, including Hanford, Los Alamos, and Argonnea"just thirty miles from downtown Chicago.
Toward the end of the press conference, OaLeary paused and then put one of her last remaining transparencies on the overhead screen. In bold letters, it read, aThe Human Radiation Experiments.a The department, she admitted, had conducted several hundred radiation experiments on American citizens, including one in which eighteen people were injected with plutonium. OaLeary said she was shocked and appalled by the experiments and had hired an ethicist to look into them. aWhat Iave read,a she said of the plutonium injections, aleads me to believe that by the standards of today informed consent could not have taken place.a17 OaLeary said she had hoped to release the names of the plutonium patients but had been advised against it by the departmentas attorneys. aIam attempting not to be sensational, but to balance the needs of the families with the publicas desire to know more.a The acknowledgment of the radiation experiments was an astounding mea culpa for a high government official and certainly underscored the departmentas new commitment to openness. The only hitch was that OaLearyas admission wasnat entirely voluntary. Her comments were prompted by the forty-five-page series the Albuquerque Tribune had published on the plutonium injections three weeks earlier. Nevertheless, her acknowledgment was a historic break with her predecessors. She was the leader of the department that in earlier incarnations had carried out the injections and had covered them up. OaLeary had not only confirmed that the federal government had sponsored these experiments, she had gone a step further and admitted that she found them appalling. Her reaction was exactly the same as my own, six years earlier, when I first stumbled across the footnote describing the injections.
From a darkened room at DOEas regional office in Albuquerque, I watched OaLearyas press conference by satellite. I had driven over to their office to see the briefing after hearing rumors that she might discuss the experiments. Sitting at the long table with me were a handful of DOE employees and a reporter for the competing newspaper. With each new graphic OaLeary put up on the overhead screen, the bureaucratsa scowls seemed to deepen.
Although OaLeary portrayed the DOE as a revitalized department committed to openness and trust, the government employees I was dealing with still seemed to be part of the same old Cold War machine. My work on the plutonium experiment had begun long before OaLeary arrived, but the newspaperas intense legal battle to obtain records occurred during her first ten months on the job. The DOE had steadfastly refused to provide the names of the patients, even though they were all dead and had no privacy rights.
While the legal skirmishes were going on, I followed the paper trail, hoping to uncover the ident.i.ties of the patients on my own. After finding the footnote in 1987, it had taken me five years to uncover the ident.i.ty of Elmer Allen. But when I returned to the story full-time in the spring and summer of 1993, I was able to find four other patients in quick succession by using the same kinds of clues that had helped me find Elmer.
The second patient I found was Albert Stevens, CAL-1, the California housepainter injected in California. The doc.u.ment that helped me unravel his ident.i.ty came from history professor Barton Bernstein, whom I had met during my 1991a"92 journalism fellowship at Stanford University. Bernstein just happened to be one of the few historians in the country who knew something about Joseph Hamilton and Robert Stone and their human experiments at Berkeley. I called him one afternoon and we talked at length about the two scientists. A couple of weeks later I received an unsolicited doc.u.ment in the mail from him. It was a copy of the July 7, 1945, letter that Hamilton wrote to Stone asking him whether he could pay CAL-1 fifty dollars a month to keep him in the Berkeley area.
The letter contained three clues: It identified the subject as a aMr. Stephens,a disclosed that he was a housepainter, and that he owned property in 1945 in Healdsburg, California. But how was I to find a man with such a common last name who had owned property in a small town fifty years ago? On a whim, I contacted a local museum in Healdsburg to find out what historical records were available. An official there suggested that I call a genealogist named Lorlei Metke. I left a message on Metkeas answering machine, doubting that she would call me back or even be able to help me.
Late one Friday evening, as I was locking the door to the press room, the phone rang. It was Lorlei Metke. When I explained what I was looking for, she responded crisply, aIall see what I can do.a Metke proved to be an indefatigable and resourceful researcher. She plowed through city directories, phone books, marriage records, death records, voting records, and finally consulted some of her old friends.
She discovered there was indeed a housepainter who lived in Healdsburg in 1945. But his name was Albert Stevens, not Stephens. She also tracked down the whereabouts of Albertas two children. His son, Thomas, was retired and living in Michigan, and his daughter, Evelyn, was still living in California. Metke was convinced Joseph Hamilton had misspelled the name of the man he had injected with plutonium. I hoped she was right but needed further corroboration.
One of my first calls was to Albertas son, Thomas, who is now deceased. Briefly I described the plutonium experiment and explained why I thought his father might have been one of the subjects. Thomas was startled by the news, but offered to help me in any way he could. He confirmed that his father did undergo a serious stomach operation in San Francisco in 1945. He also remembered that following the procedure, his father kept urine and stool samples in the shed behind his house for some people who came up from Berkeley. And Thomas recalled one more strange thing. In the early 1970s, he said, he had received a phone call from someone inquiring about Albertas cremated remains. He couldnat remember much more about the inquiry or what happened after that.
Thomasas recollections dovetailed closely with what I knew about CAL-1. But I still needed further proof that Albert Stevens and aMr. Stephensa were one and the same person. I ordered a copy of Albert Stevensas death certificate by mail from the state of California. When it arrived, the certificate indicated that Albert had been cremated by the Chapel of the Chimes in Santa Rosa, California. Thinking back to the mysterious phone call Thomas had received, I called the funeral home one afternoon and asked the woman who answered the telephone if Mr. Stevensas cremated remains were still there. She put me on hold while she looked up the records. When she returned to the telephone, she said, Theyare gone. Where? I asked her. They were shipped to Argonne National Laboratory in 1975, she responded.
I thanked her and slowly put down the receiver. Then I got up and walked around the newsroom several times to give myself a few moments to absorb what I had heard. Why would a national laboratory want the ashes of a California housepainter? It could only be because the plutonium they wanted to measure was still in those ashes. The pieces had fallen into place. Eventually I received a copy of the official permit releasing Albertas remains to Argonne. At last I had incontrovertible, written proof that aMr. Stephensa and Albert Stevens were indeed the same person.
As the story progressed, I kept in touch with Thomas Stevens. The surprise that he initially felt upon hearing that his father had been injected with plutonium had begun to turn into indignationa"a reaction experienced by many relatives of the plutonium patients. aItas inconceivable that anything like this could have occurred.18 You think of something like this happening in other countries,a he said during one interview.
Gradually our conversation turned to Albert himself. One of Thomasas most vivid memories was the intoxicating year the family made their way from Ohio to California in the cramped Model-T. They had pitched their nine-by-twelve-foot tent in the snows of Colorado and under the shade of New Mexicoas cottonwood trees. Thomas sent me a photograph of his father that had been taken on the road. He is standing in the middle of the desert with his hands on his hips and smiling as if he owns the mountain behind him. Although he is miles from civilization, he is dressed like a gentleman, wearing a white shirt and tie beneath his old-fashioned driving suit.
While I was trying to obtain more information on Elmer Allen and Albert Stevens, doc.u.ments began trickling in from the DOE in response to the newspaperas Freedom of Information Act request. Clues in those doc.u.ments helped me uncover the ident.i.ty of several more patients. One was Eda Schultz Charlton, HP-3, the misdiagnosed housewife.
One afternoon I received a thick manila envelope of doc.u.ments from the Energy Department. My response to these packages was nearly always the same: a sense of antic.i.p.ation followed by sharp disappointment as I skimmed the contents and realized the envelope contained mostly duplicate and triplicate copies of scientific reports and press releases that I already had. This thick package promised to be no different. Nevertheless, I took it home that night and dumped the contents onto the floor of my living room. Carefully I sorted through the papers. Mixed in with the official reports were a few records I hadnat seen before. Perhaps something on one of those papersa"a word or a phrasea"might yield information that would lead to more names. I examined each page carefully, looking at the dates, signatures, even the decla.s.sification stamps. From the stack, I pulled out one doc.u.ment. It was an unsigned and undated note on which the following words were scrawled: aCharltona"died 198?a My mind immediately leapt to the two unidentified Rochester patients, a man and a woman, who had partic.i.p.ated in the follow-up studies and died in the 1980s. Could aCharltona be the last name of one of those patients? From my reporting, I knew that Christine Waterhouse had cared for those two patients. She was retired and living in Maine and I had spoken to her on the phone several times. Although she was pleasant enough, she couldnat remember much about the study. aThis was war,a she said during one of our first interviews.19 aThere were a lot of things condoned for the good of the many.a I put the sc.r.a.p of paper in my notepad and went to bed. When I arrived in the newsroom the following morning, I dialed Christine Water houseas number again. Was aCharltona the name of one of your patients, I asked her, slowing spelling out the last name.
aEdith Charlton. Thatas the first time I remembered it.20 Edith Charlton. Now that you bring that up, I do remember her better. I did take care of her for a long time, too.a Of course, her first name was Eda, not Edith. Although Waterhouse said she didnat think Eda had any close relatives, I began calling funeral homes in Canandaigua, New York, where Eda had died. If she did have any relatives, the funeral home that handled her burial arrangements would have their names. From one of those funeral homes, I eventually discovered that she indeed had a son, Luther Fred Schultz, and that he was living in Geneva, New York.
Soon I was talking on the telephone with Fred and his wife, Helen. In a matter-of-fact voice, Helen volunteered in the first few minutes of our conversation that her mother-in-law had once told her that she had been injected with plutonium. aWe didnat know what to think about that,a Helen said.21 Although the comment clearly indicated that Eda had been informed of the plutonium injection at some point in her life, Helen said that her mother-in-law really didnat understand what plutonium was or what it meant to her health. aShe couldnat understand why they were always checking her for radiation and why she was having to go in and stay in the hospital and be on a special diet and have her specimens collected and all that.a22 Eventually I met Fred and Helen during one of two research trips to upstate New York. They were a lovely, trusting couple who welcomed me into their home. Both are now dead. As Eda grew older, Helen often prepared soups and stews for her mother-in-law and drove her to her doctoras appointments at Christine Waterhouseas office.
During Edaas final days in the nursing home, when senility was moving across her mind like an eraser and bananas had become her chief delight, Helen put together a photograph alb.u.m of Edaas life, hoping the images would lessen her mental confusion. As I sat on their couch, Helen pulled the thick photo alb.u.m down from a shelf and placed it in my lap. Suddenly the life story of Eda, HP-3 as she was referred to in all the study doc.u.ments, opened before mea"the shy, pensive daughter, the young wife, the mother, and finally the grandmother, an old woman struggling to corral the fleeing memories.
Dr. Waterhouse herself volunteered the ident.i.ty of the other Rochester patient during one of our conversations. His name was John Mousso. aI took care of him for a long time.23 I can even visualize him,a she said. Waterhouse said she had no idea where Mousso lived or if he had any children.
I enlisted the aid of a second genealogist, named Richard Halsey, to help me in that search. He was an easygoing man of forty-three who worked on the shipping docks at Kodak and had been doing genealogy research as a hobby for nearly twenty years. Halsey sent me a list of all the Moussos in the Rochester telephone book. Slowly, I began working my way down the list.
Late one evening I reached Jerry Mousso, a retired school administrator in Rochester. When I explained who I was looking for, he said, aYou know, that sounds a lot like my uncle.a24 Jerry gave me the name and telephone number of his uncleas son, Robert Mousso, who lives in a small town outside Rochester (and wasnat on my list). When I contacted Robert, he confirmed that Waterhouse was indeed his fatheras physician and that his father suffered from Addisonas disease. The fact that he had the same doctor and suffered from the same disease as HP-6 convinced me Iad found the right John Mousso.
Robert talked at length about his father and about the severe hardship the family had endured as a result of his long illness. aBefore he was sick, he was always working.25 When he was sick, he was always in hospitals.a After his mother died, Robert drew closer to his father. One summer he put in a garden for him. On warm summer nights, with the water running on the vegetable plants, they would sit on apple crates and talk. The elder Mousso often reminisced about his youth, the time before the sickness set in. He came from a tribe of French Canadians who had worked in the Adirondacks as miners and lumberjacks and then moved to East Rochester in the early 1920s to work in the acarshops,a the railroad yards where refrigerator cars were built.
I sent Robert some doc.u.ments about the experiment. A few days later I called him again and asked him what he thought of it. aItas unbelievable.26 Itas unbelievable. Itas here in black and white, but I say to myself, my G.o.d, where is the humanity to do something like that?a Robert was disturbed by the information but subsequently decided that he didnat want to cooperate further in the story. aHeas gone. It happened years ago. I want my father to have his privacy.a But John Moussoas nephew, Jerry Mousso, disagreed. aI just have a gut feeling my uncle would want to fight this.27 This guy was a fighter. He had a lot of self-respect and I think he would be indignant, just like Iam indignant.a Jerry Mousso subsequently became deeply involved in the controversy, testifying before Congress and acting as a spokesman for the Rochester families.
I uncovered the ident.i.ty of a fifth patient, Fred Sours, HP-9, the politician from Gates, New York, with another doc.u.ment that we had received under the Freedom of Information Act. That doc.u.ment was a summary memo containing statistical data on the eighteen patients. Included were the exhumation dates of three of the patients. Although the doc.u.ment did not disclose where the exhumations had taken place, I figured at least one may have occurred in Rochester, since thatas where most of the injectees lived.
I got a list of the largest cemeteries in Rochester from genealogist Richard Halsey and began another round of phone calls. Using the exhumation dates together with the birth and death dates, I thought I might be able to work backward and find the names of the patients. Exhumations, after all, arenat everyday affairs. But most of the cemetery officials I contacted said they couldnat help me without a name. Rochesteras Holy Sepulchre Cemetery was the last number on my list. I dialed the cemetery halfheartedly and for the umpteenth time explained to the employee who answered the phone, John Moore, what I was looking for. Instead of giving me the usual negative response, Moore sounded interested. He put me on hold while he looked up some records. Then he came back on the line and said, aYup, we got one.a Moore had found a person buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery who had the same birth date, death date, and exhumation date as one of the plutonium patients I was looking for. But the clincher came when he told me the remains of the man had been shipped to Argonne National Laboratory.
Whatas his name? I asked, trying to tamp down the excitement in my voice.
Fred C. Sours, he responded.
Richard Halsey retrieved an obituary of Sours from the microfilm archives of a Rochester newspaper. Sours had no children, and I was unable to locate any living relatives. His life would have to be reconstructed from official records only. (Some relatives eventually were found after my series was published.) Halsey also went through reel after reel of microfilmed newspaper obituaries at the Rochester public library, hoping to find some of the unidentified plutonium patients by matching their birth and death dates with the published notices. I soon learned that obituaries are often inaccurate and that not everybody who dies has one. Halsey came up with some promising names, but none of them panned out. We had reached a dead end as far as obits went.
In the meantime, several of the families gave me permission to obtain the medical records of their relatives. From the San Francisco hospital, I received copies of Albert Stevensas records and Elmer Allenas records. Albertas records did not say anything about the plutonium injection, but Elmeras contained the so-called consent form written so many years earlier by Bertram V. A. Low-Beer. From Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester I obtained more than 300 pages of records describing Edaas medical history dating back to 1945. The word aplutoniuma was not mentioned anywhere.
Following other leads, I tracked down John Abbotts, a former staffer for congressman Edward Markey, who located a copy of the 1974 AEC report describing the internal investigation into the plutonium experiment and sent it to me. The report, which was stamped aOfficial Use Only,a was difficult to follow because the DOE had deleted the names of the scientists and the names of the patients. Nevertheless, it provided many important details about both the original injections and the follow-up study. I also interviewed Christine Waterhouse, Patricia Durbin, and Hymer Friedell on numerous occasions and talked with Argonne scientist Robert Rowland and others involved in the follow-up study. Although the DOE refused to confirm the names of any of the patients or even that the experiment had taken place, the doc.u.mentation was solid, and we decided to publish what we had.
As the series was being edited, I went over again and again in my mind the doc.u.mentary evidence proving that CAL-1 was Albert Stevens; CAL-3, Elmer Allen; HP-3, Eda Schultz Charlton; HP-6, John Mousso; and HP-9, Fred Sours. I was sure these people were five of the plutonium patients, but without official DOE confirmation, it was impossible to be 100 percent certain.
So it was with considerable apprehension that I watched that morning as Hazel OaLeary placed one transparency after another on the overhead screen. When she mentioned the plutonium experiment at the end of the press conference, my pen stopped moving. For one brief moment, I thought she was going to deny what the newspaper had printed and was grateful for the darkened room. Instead she said she was disturbed by the experiments and that the department was looking into them. Numb with relief, I resumed my note taking. With the help of Karen MacPherson, the newspaperas Washington correspondent who had attended the press conference, we got a story on the front page two hours later.
OaLeary told me in an interview in 1997 just days before she stepped down as energy secretary that the question of whether the radiation experiments should be discussed at the press conference was a matter of ahot debatea within the department for a brief period. aI came pretty quickly to the decision that we had to go with it and it was just good common sense.a28 Although OaLeary had touched on many issues at the press conference, the national media focused on disclosures about the human radiation experiments. It was the first time any sustained attention had been given to the experiments. Within days of her admission, the Department of Energy was deluged with inquiries. A hot line was established as thousands of calls poured in. A staff of three telephone operators mushroomed to a staff of thirty-six. The hot line aoverloadeda by 10,000 attempted calls in one day, according to one press release. Through January 4 of 1994, it was receiving 6,000 to 10,000 calls a day.29 Many callers never got past the busy signal.
OaLeary conceded on a CNN program that individuals who had been harmed by the radiation experiments might be ent.i.tled to compensation, an admission that led to even more frenzied news coverage and worried some officials at the White House. aThere was this four-day period where the middle-level minions in the White House were tearing me apart because they werenat sure whether the news would turn out to be positive or negative,a OaLeary remembered.30 aIn the midst of all that, I got a call from the president of the United States saying, aI think youare doing just the right thing. Keep on doing it.a a
REVELATIONS AND TRIBULATIONS.
On November 30, 1993, Eugene Saenger was awarded the Gold Medal, the highest honor given out by the Radiological Society of North America. He thought the TBI controversy, a musty scandal more than two decades old, had finally been put to rest. aIt was the trial of my life,a he would later tell the Cincinnati Enquirer.1 Just a week after he received the award, when Energy Secretary Hazel OaLeary confirmed that Cold War scientists had used American citizens as guinea pigs, Saenger found himself back on trial. Martha Stephens, the young faculty member who nearly twenty-five years earlier had helped write the scathing indictment of Saengeras experiment, was determined not to let the story fade away this time. She went down to her bas.e.m.e.nt, retrieved the old reports, and gave them to reporters. In early 1994, the Cincinnati Post published a lengthy article about the experiment. More comprehensive than anything written in the 1970s, the story stirred up a frenzied wave of publicity.
Stephens and a graduate student identified nearly twenty patients by cross-referencing statistics in the Department of Defense doc.u.ments with other publicly available records. The cityas two newspapers unraveled the ident.i.ties of other test subjects, while still other relatives of deceased patients came forward on their own after reading or listening to news reports.
With names, the faceless, hopelessly ill cancer patients suddenly became flesh and blood: They were mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Day after day the sorrowing relatives appeared on television or in the newspaper recalling their loved onesa last miserable weeks. Family members alleged the doctors killed their relatives or, at the very least, shortened their lives and increased their suffering.
It was a public relations nightmare for the University of Cincinnati. A hot line set up by the medical center initially logged some 500 callers. There were rumblings of a criminal probe. The universityas Board of Trustees held a special meeting to address the issue in early 1994, and two weeks later, 5,000 pages of doc.u.ments, some quite damaging, were released by UC president Joseph Steger.
With publicity at a fever pitch, a congressional field hearing was held in Cincinnati on April 11, 1994. The federal courtroom was packed with community leaders and public officials. Many of the relatives of the cancer patients couldnat get in and were forced to listen to the testimony on a speaker that had been hurriedly placed in a hallway. After the Department of Defense, the doctors, and the families had testified, Eugene Saenger rose from the audience and took a seat alone at the witness table. He was then seventy-seven years old, erect and confident, and recovering from bladder cancer. A murmur went up from the crowd.
If the relatives had come to hear a plea for forgiveness, a few words of regret, they were to be sorely disappointed.2 Saenger stuck to the same remarks he had made more than twenty years earlier; he said the patients were gravely ill and the purpose of the TBI treatment was to relieve pain, shrink the tumors, and improve their well-being. He also retracted his statement made in the 1973 paper that eight of the patients may have died from radiation. aWe have looked at these charts recently and find the course of these patientsa"the downhill course of these patients to have been due to cancer.a3 Sitting at the witness table, a manila folder opened in front of him, Saenger was still the military consultant who believed the world was on the brink of nuclear war. aOur work,a he told the congressmen, ahas contributed significantly to the better treatment of patients with far advanced cancer and to our better understanding of the effect of radiation on humans in a time when nuclear warfare once again seems possible.a4 But one of his most inadvertently revealing comments came later, in an interview with staffers from President Clintonas Advisory Committee, when Saenger admitted he didnat know whether he would have proceeded with the experiment if he had not secured the DOD funding.
aWould you have done it [the total body irradiation experiment] if you hadnat gotten the DOD funding, or could you have?a asked staffer Gary Stern.5 aI think we certainly could have. What we would have done, I donat know,a Saenger responded.
The families eventually filed a cla.s.s-action lawsuit in federal court. Although the obstacles were daunting, U.S. District Judge Sandra Beck-with, a Republican appointed to the federal bench in 1992 by President George Bush, issued an early ruling favorable to the plaintiffs. Beckwith said she found it ainconceivablea that the doctors awhen allegedly planning to perform radiation experiments on unwitting subjects, were not moved to pause or rethink their procedures in light of the forceful dictates of the Nuremberg Tribunal.a6 She added, aThe Nuremberg Code is part of the law of humanity. It may be applied in both civil and criminal cases by the federal courts in the United States.a In Ma.s.sachusetts, Sandra Marlowas ears perked up when she heard the Department of Energy was going to come clean on the human radiation experiments. After her father died in 1977 of a rare form of leukemia, she had begun delving into the atmospheric testing program in her spare time. Her father had been an Air Force colonel and had been exposed to radiation during a training course on one of the contaminated Operation Crossroads ships towed back to California and as a partic.i.p.ant in the 1955 Operation Teapot.
When Secretary OaLeary made her announcement, Marlow just happened to be working as a librarian at the Walter E. Fernald State School in Waltham, Ma.s.sachusettsa"the inst.i.tution where the boys had eaten the radioactive oatmeal decadesa earlier.7 While organizing the libraryas historical collection, she had come across numerous yellowing reprints describing the radioactive iron and calcium experiments. Some of the studies, she noticed, were funded by the Atomic Energy Commission. Why was the AEC, she wondered, sponsoring radiation research at a state inst.i.tution for the mentally r.e.t.a.r.ded? A few days after OaLearyas announcement, Marlow and one of her friends, Dan Bernstein, a lawyer for the Center for Atomic Radiation Studies in Brookline, Ma.s.sachusetts, tipped off the Boston Globe to the studies.8 When the newspaper published an account of the experiment on December 26, 1993, the article touched off a furor. Some of the Science Club members, such as Gordon Shattuck, learned about the experiment when they were contacted by reporters. Others aself-identifieda themselves after reading or listening to news reports about the experiments. The memories of the long-forgotten injusticesa"the mattress springs, the rope rubbing, the back-breaking farm labora"came flooding back, along with the stinging knowledge that the state officials charged to protect them had used them as test subjects. The inst.i.tution, Shattuck said bitterly, used the boys as aguinea pigs and farm rats.a Less than three weeks after the article appeared, Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Edward Markey were conducting a field hearing at Fernald. Markey was outraged that the experiment had not been disclosed when he was conducting his investigation. aI fear that past human radiation experimentation may prove much wider than we found in 1986,a he said.9 Austin LaRocque and Charles Dyer, two of the men who had been subjected to the experiments during their boyhood days at Fernald, testified at the hearing. A. Bertrand Brill, the scientist who had helped a.n.a.lyze the doses that the Vanderbilt children had received in the womb, represented the scientific point of view. As Markey tried to pin down Brill, Austin LaRocque turned to Senator Kennedy and said, aCan I ask one question please?a aSure,a responded Kennedy.10 aTo this gentlemen here,a LaRocque said, nodding at Brill. aIf you had your son here, would you have allowed this to happen, knowing what you know about radiation?a aWell, I have, you know, many of us in medicine, when we are investigating new phenomena will take radioactive tracers and study ourselves. Iave done it so many times,a Brill responded.
LaRocque pressed on, going straight to the heart of the matter. aBut you didnat answer my question directly. I want to know, if it was your son, would you have accepted it?a The audience suddenly erupted in applause, nearly drowning out Brillas response. aKnowing what I know now, I would,a he said. aBut at that time, I donat know a a The Ma.s.sachusetts Department of Mental r.e.t.a.r.dation a.s.sembled the Task Force on Human Subject Research to investigate the experiments. Following a four-month inquiry, the task force found the studies violated the afundamental human rightsa of the patients.11 The parents were not adequately informed, and the Science Club const.i.tuted a apotentially coercive factora in getting the children to cooperate.12 The task force also concluded that the doses were too small to produce asignificant health effects.a But many of the former Fernald residents donat believe the experiments were harmless.13 They have lost their teeth. They have lumps, cysts, deteriorating disks, and prostate problems, and they donat know if the ailments are related to aging, radiation, or both.
aThey bribed us by offering us special privileges, knowing that we had so little that we would do practically anything for attention,a Fred Boyce, one of Fernaldas former residents, said at a hearing in Washington, D.C. aIt was cruel and unusual punishment in the name of science.14 Keep in mind, we didnat commit any crimes. We were just seven-year-old orphans.a While they were making dinner, driving their cars, or watching TV during the Christmas season of 1993, the women who attended Vanderbilt Universityas prenatal clinic listened in astonishment to news reports about an experiment that had been conducted there after the war. As in Cincinnati, a media frenzy had erupted in Nashville when a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean wrote a story about the Vanderbilt study. So much time had elapsed. The mothers had lived through births, deaths, divorces. They were grandmothers with gray hair and long lives etched into their faces and bore little resemblance to the young women who obligingly drank the c.o.c.ktails the doctors handed them.
They sifted through their memories. The dates fit. But the thought that Vanderbilt would do something like that didnat. The idea challenged their sense of orderliness, the way the world had operated for fifty years. When Helen Hutchison heard the news, she told her daughter, aVanderbilt couldnat do anything like that. I just donat believe anything like that happened. They wouldnat do that to us.a Vanderbilt found several boxes of records on the experiment in a remote warehouse. With those records, the university was able to identify approximately 240 of the 829 women given radioactive iron.
Helen Hutchison was one of them. In March of 1994, she received records confirming that she had been given 4.16 milligrams of radioactive iron on July 25, 1946. aItas unthinkable,a she said.15 aTo take something that powerful and that unknown and test it on women, itas beyond comprehension.a Vanderbilt began aggressively defending itself against charges that the experiment was unethical and unsafe. aWhile it would not be acceptable today to give radioactive isotopes to pregnant women, it is also clear that this was carefully evaluated at the time, and there was a feeling then it was safe,a Joseph C. Ross, Vanderbiltas a.s.sociate vice chancellor for health affairs, told the New York Times.16 aWe want to be as helpful as we can, but to create the feeling that weave done something wrong, we donat want to do that.a Vanderbilt University officials enlisted the aid of scientists and statisticians to refute its own report, which found cancers in the children exposed in utero to the radioactive iron. Henry N. Wagner, a professor of medicine and radiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said Ruth Hagstromas study was riddled with errors. Her conclusion that three of the malignancies const.i.tuted a statistically significant increase was atotally unwarranted by the data,a he claimed in a court affidavit.17 Hagstrom agreed with her critics and downplayed the cancer deaths. But when the publicity had subsided and I asked her in a telephone interview two years later whether she personally believed the radioactive iron caused the malignancies, she responded, aI donat know. We donat know any better now than we knew then.18 I mean, the dataas just not there. All we can say is whatas in the paper.a Scientists in Oak Ridge rea.n.a.lyzed the Vanderbilt data and came up with aa few tens of milliradsa for the total fetal doses.19 These were the lowest exposures ever a.s.signed to the unborn infants and many times lower than what the original experimenter Paul Hahn had estimated. The Oak Ridge scientists conceded that it would anever be absolutely determineda whether the malignancies in the Vanderbilt infants were caused by radiation exposure, but they added that most experts believed that fetal abnormalities occur when the doses are much higher.
The Oak Ridge a.n.a.lysis drew strong criticism from Roland Finston, a retired Stanford University health physicist and an expert witness hired by attorneys representing the mothers. Finston, who had helped me calculate the radiation doses to the plutonium patients, contended the malignancies found among the children present a aconvincing profilea of cancers that might be expected from in-utero exposure to radioactive iron. aAll of these cancers are either known to be radiogenic, or are closely a.s.sociated with the hematopoetic and lymphatic systems where radioiron would be expected to have its effects.20 We can also be sure that the Vanderbilt experiment has alr