The Army Sprayed Cities With Potentially Harmful Chemicals To Simulate Biological Attacks

The Army Sprayed Cities With Potentially Harmful Chemicals To Simulate Biological Attacks

During the 1950s and '60s, the U.S. Army dusted chosen American cities from coast to coast with a fine powder of a fluorescent, potentially toxic chemical. And now one scientist says, at least in the case of St. Louis, that powder may have contained radioactive material. The powder scattering was part of Operation Large Area Coverage (LAC), a series of tests the Army says were designed to assess the threat of biological attacks by simulating the airborne dispersion of germs. The experiments exposed large swathes of the United States, and parts of Mexico and Canada, to flurries of a synthesized chemical called zinc cadmium sulfide.

New research from sociologist Lisa Martino-Taylor in St. Louis, one of the cities singled out for heavy-duty testing during LAC, suggests the Army may have mixed radioactive particles with the zinc cadmium sulfide it spread throughout a poor, mostly black neighborhood there.

Martino-Taylor, a professor at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, admits she has no direct proof radioactive material was released in St. Louis, but her report on the chemical tests compelled both of Missouri's U.S. senators to send letters to Army Secretary John McHugh demanding information, according to the Associated Press. [The 10 Most Outrageous Military Experiments]

Her study examines organizational connections between scientists working on the zinc-cadmium-sulfide tests in St. Louis and researchers who, at around the same time, were engaged in human radiation experiments and releases of radioactive material into the environment that have been proven. (Many established human radiation experiments in the United States are detailed in the 1995 report of Bill Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments.) It also notes that United States Radium Corporation, a company notorious for manufacturing a radioactive, glow-in-the dark paint that killed and sickened some of its workers in the 1920s, supplied the army's zinc cadmium sulfide, originally developed as another fluorescent paint pigment.

The conclusion Martino-Taylor draws, that the St. Louis tests likely involved radiological testing on humans, is highly contentious. Not in dispute, though, is the fact that the Army exposed people around the country to a poorly studied and potentially harmful chemical, without their consent.