U.S. Performed Radiation Experiments On Its Own Citizens, New Book Reveals

Published October 3, 2017
Updated November 6, 2017

Three House Democrats who represent areas where testing occurred have come forward to demand greater government transparency on the issue.

Lisa Martino Taylor

APLisa Martino-Taylor.

A recently released book details the experiments the US government undertook, over decades, on their own unknowing citizens to test the effects of radiation.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a recently published book by Lisa Martino-Taylor, an associate professor of sociology at St. Louis Community College, reveals the experiments the US government conducted to determine the dangers of radioactivity on its own populace.

In her newest book, Behind the Fog: How the U.S. Cold War Radiological Weapons Program Exposed Innocent Americans, Martino-Taylor details how unsuspecting American citizens were fed, sprayed, or injected with radioactive materials during a series of experiments from the 1940s to the late 1960s.

Using previously unreleased documents, including Army records, that she obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Martino-Taylor discovered that throughout these decades, researchers worked to develop radiological and “combination weapons,” weapons using radioactive materials along with chemical or biological weapons, by testing them on unknowing Americans.

One example she cites is a 1940s experiment in Nashville, TN wherein 820 impoverished pregnant women were given a mixture that included radioactive iron during their first prenatal visit. These women were given the radioactive material without their knowledge and had their blood, and the blood of their babies, tested by scientists to determine how radioactive exposure during pregnancy effects babies.

Similar tests were also performed in Chicago and San Francisco.

“They targeted the most vulnerable in society in most cases,” Martino-Taylor said. “They targeted children. They targeted pregnant women in Nashville. People who were ill in hospitals. They targeted wards of the state. And they targeted minority populations.”

Martino-Taylor’s newest book was a follow up to her 2012 dissertation, which brought to light the testing of radioactive materials by the government on poor communities in St. Louis in the 1950s and 1960s.

She discovered that in the mid-1950s, the US Army sprayed zinc cadmium sulfide, a fine fluorescent powder, onto impoverished African American neighborhoods in St. Louis, MO from planes and roof-mounted machines. The idea was to simulate how biological and chemical weapons would spread through a city.

Radioactive Sprayer

University of Missouri –
Aerosol disperser used to spray radioactive materials onto St. Louis neighborhoods.

Martino-Taylor says she has discovered evidence that radioactive materials were mixed into the chemical payload.

One woman who witnessed this chemical test, Mary Helen Brindell, 73, remembers playing outside on her street when Army planes showered her neighborhood with a fine white substance.

Brindell suffered from breast, thyroid, skin, and uterine cancers throughout her life. Her sister died of a rare esophageal cancer.

“I just want an explanation from the government,” Brindell said. “Why would you do that to people?”

In Behind the Fog, Martino-Taylor details further examples of the US government unknowingly turning their own citizens into guinea pigs in order to test the effects of radiation, continuing well into the 1960s.

In California, throughout the 1950s and 60s, scientists created radiation fields in areas where they knew it would effect unknowing citizens. This includes fields created in UCLA, in a Los Angeles Police Department building, and even in a North Hollywood high school.

The book also describes testing in Berkeley, Chicago, Rochester, NY, and Oak Ridge, TN, involved injecting unknowing patients with the radioactive isotope plutonium-239.

Lisa Martino Taylor Stlouis

UPI/Bill GreenblattLisa Martino-Taylor overlooks the area where radioactive gas was dispersed in north St. Louis.

In response to these revelations, three House Democrats who represent areas where testing occurred, William Lacy Clay of Missouri, Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, came forward to demand greater government transparency on the issue.

“We are asking for details on the Pentagon’s role, along with any cooperation by research institutions and other organizations,” Chris Carroll, a spokesman for the office of Jim Cooper, said. “These revelations are shocking, disturbing and painful.”

Hopefully, this increased pressure on the military from elected officials and the general public will force them to reveal what exactly happened in these instances.

Despite the shock of elected officials, this is far from the first time that the US government has authorized the use horrifying and deadly experiments on unknowing Americans.

In the 1930s, through to the 1970s, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study where they took 399 African American sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama with syphilis and provided them with bogus medication to track the degeneration of the body under syphilis.

This continued well after the discovery of penicillin as a cure for syphilis, a discovery that the U.S. Public Health Service concealed from the people in their study. Researchers leading the test also prevented any of the men in their study from receiving penicillin.

This study came to be known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, for the researchers’ collaboration with the Tuskegee University.

Tuskegee Study

Wikimedia CommonsA doctor draws blood from one of the Tuskegee test subjects.

In World War II, the US military also tested numerous chemical and biological weapons on many, mainly African American, soldiers without their knowledge.

While these types of experiments may have been common in the past, it is essential to understand exactly what happened during them so that those who were unnecessarily harmed by our government can receive compensation, and so that we can avoid ever conducting such horrifying procedures in the future.

Next, read more about other ways that the United States government has unethically experimented with radiation on their citizens. Then, learn about the time the Soviet Union tested the Tsar Bomba, a nuke that was too big for war.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.