Category Archives: Worker Health & Safety
Very little information has been released by the Army on the health of former Rocky Mountain Arsenal workers. I wondered about this…but then I began to study secrecy. Late one September night as I was reading Chapter 13 of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, my eye caught the following paragraph and subsequent footnote(s) [emphasis-added]:
In the case of research related to chemical and biological warfare, the military issued a secret edict that published articles be cleansed of any reference to military purpose.  In many cases the opportunity to obscure the full purpose of research by careful wording was obvious.
Footnotes to the above quote:
70. W. G. Lalor, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.), Secretary, Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Chief of Staff, U.S. Army et al., 3 September 1952 (“Security Measures on Chemical Warfare and Biological Warfare”) (ACHRE No. NARA-012495-A), 2. In the memo to the service chiefs of staff, the Joint Chiefs decreed that “responsible agencies” should “[e]nsure, insofar as practicable, that all published articles stemming from the BW [biological warfare] or CW [chemical warfare] research and development programs are disassociated from anything which might connect them with U.S. military endeavor.”
71. Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Thirtieth Joint Medical Research Conference, minutes of 8 January 1964 (ACHRE No. DOD-062994-A), 3.
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In a previous work, I stressed that bureaucratic language is essentially linked to power; language, coupled with outright omissions of information, can be used to conceal information. By applying the broad category of “radiobiology” or “cleansing” the literature of any reference to the military experimentation or projects, the military undermined the time-honored practice of scientific peer review as well as obfuscated informed consent of volunteers and the public’s right to know of the military’s [covert] contribution to the research literature.
This manipulation of language – not an uncommon occurrence as a technique of secrecy keeping – jeopardizes historical understanding and sorely tarnishes public confidence in government research. This situation calls to [my] mind sociologist Max Weber’s observation in Economy and Society, where Max asks
“…how can there be any guarantee that any powers will remain which can check and effectively control the influence of this stratum? How will democracy even in this limited sense be possible at all?”
With this in mind, consider the following:
Look over the Department of the Army, RMA Review and Analysis, 4th Quarter 1970, a doc I received under FOIA. The doc mentions demil and two projects: Project GEMS and Project LEACHE [Long Term Effects Anticholinesterase.] There is no mention of informed consent on the 148 “exposed personnel.” I wonder: were the workers mentioned in the LEACHE study the “industrial workers” of the Holmes and Metcalf study (below)?
The Metcalf and Holmes study, (June 23, 1969, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences), which disingenuously characterizes the study as “industrial and agricultural workers” exposed to pesticides. RMA [chemical weapons] workers are a component of the study cryptically indicated by “RMA” (circled) printed on Table 1.
At the January 26, 2000 EPA [Bob Martin] Ombudsman’s hearing on RMA, Dr. Robert McFarland testified to treating Sarin-exposed workers at Colorado General Hospital during the late 1950s while a resident. The medical school (University of Colorado), McFarland said, was doing a Army funded study on an antidote to Sarin exposure using 2PAM, or pyridine 2-aldoxime; this antidote was investigated as an alternative to the traditionally used atropine in cases of Sarin poisoning. Dr. McFarland reported the physicians who administered the study were ordered by their dean to participate as the medical school “was so hard up for money after World War II we had to take any study we could get.” [Thanks to Dr. McFarland for providing this document].
Former RMA worker Ray Laughbridge tells his story in Denver magazine September, 1976. Note: Dr. Joseph Holmes of the Metcalf and Holmes study worked for the Army Chemical Service.
Some interesting historical things from my files; At its peak, the Arsenal employed 3,100 civilians, including WAC officers assigned to do war work.
- Larsen (1969, March). Women protest nerve gas shipments, Denver Post.
- Mettert, (1943). Women’s effective war work requires good posture.
- Rocky Mt. Arsenal, Chemical Warfare Service (1943). Miscell docs on RMA women workers, including injuries and safety shoes.
- War Food Administration, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, (1945). The women’s land army works for victory.
- Women’s War Bureau, (1941). Safety clothing for women in industry.
- Ziegler, (1942). Women’s employment in artillery ammunition plants.
When researching the history of Rocky Mountain Arsenal several years ago, I requested and received under FOIA The Summary of Major Events and Problems and The Summary History of Chemical Corps Activities. Both sets of reports reveal a rich history of the Chemical Corps weapons complex, which include details of field and logistical exercises, facilities, the Tripartite conferees (U.S. Canada, and the UK), common work in chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) warfare, and genetic research.
The documents also chronicle the Corps’ involvement in weapons R & D and classified projects related to CBR warfare post World War II through the Cold War. The full extent of Chemical Corps projects remains unknown; looking at the dates of documents below and descriptions of projects, I speculate more than a few projects were part of Project ARTICHOKE, MKULTRA, and MKNAOMI, and/or other projects heretofore unidentified. The Chemical Corps, an agency created out of the War Gas Investigations research unit in 1917, was dissolved August 1, 1962. I am not certain if these reports are part of RG 175.
By gathering this set together for the first time*, it is my hope researchers will be encouraged to submit their own Freedom of Information Act requests on obscure projects and programs mentioned throughout the reports in an attempt to “detoxify the sources of our scholarship.” **
Of note: Project 112 (p.11, 98); “another of Mr. McNamara’s projects, Project 80 (p. 16); CBR agency mission (p.20); public information program (p.33+); development of simulants (p.69); Project Scorpion and Wasp (p.70); genetic factors (p.127).
Of note: 462 acres of land SW acquired by the city of Denver for Stapleton Airport (p.45); field and logistical exercises (p. 91+); Tripartite conferees (p.107); incapacitating agent Sernyl turned over to the Corps by Parke, Davis and Company (p.113); anticrop research (p.121).
Of note: General Stubbs “urgent need for strong posture on CBR warfare” (p.6); Black Magic tear and riot program (p.97, 147); BW pathogens (p. 98+); BW spray contract to North American Aviation Inc, six trials run Dugway, one with Q fever (p.107); introduction of “property accountability into the radioactive waste disposal facilities” (p.141); the Chem Corp disposed of 225 tons of rad waste (p.175); burning of “excess” mustard gas (p.175).
Of note: Chemical Corps expands activities for the conduct of “Radiological Warfare and Radiological defense” (p.44); “antipersonnel BW an ideal weapon” (p.52); Chemical Corps Intel Agency (p.82); CBR reports on Soviet production of G and V agents (p. 85); K agents conducted using a derivative of Lysergic Acid (“the men paid little attention to their leaders commands”; p. 100); the Kharasch program at U. of Chicago (p.101); academic institutions contracted (p. 103-4); anticrop agents (p.105); M35 bomb cluster at Rocky Mountain Arsenal (p. 149).
Summary of Major Events and Problems (Fiscal Year 1957)
Of note: The Chemical Corps Intelligence Agency (p. 84-87); A chart states that as of 30 June 1956, the Chemical Corps had received R&D funds totaling $10,000 from the National Security Agency (p.88); “For example, in the Development Schedule for Lethal-Type Biological Antipersonnel Systems the objective (target area) by FY 1959 is 1 to 5 square miles;… by 1966, 1,000 to 100,000 square miles” (p.92); “In February 1957 the Research and Development Command selected VX as the agent upon which to concentrate” (p.94); “In 1951 the Corps awarded a contract to the New York State Psychiatric Institute to investigate the clinical effects of mescaline and its derivatives. The contractor tested six derivatives, the Chemical Warfare laboratories tested thirty-five” (p. 97-98); “The program is expected to be a long-term project, ad the ultimate goal is to determine whether Lysergic Acid Diethylamide [LSD] can be used as an effective chemical warfare agent” (p.98); Discusses the phasing out of research into anticrop warfare (it was to become the Air Force’s responsibility; p.103); BW research on “volunteer” troops (p.104).
Of note: “[T]he Corps aided CONARC [Continental Army Command] in contingency plans for the employment of an airborne division and an airborne corps in the Middle East” (p.88-9); “(S) As of 30 June 1956, the Chemical Corps had a total of fifty-seven active units…. The officers and men in these 57 units numbered 4,763” (p.94); Organizational charts (p.117-25); “In the closing months of the previous year, the Corps established a new subproject, 4-08-03-016-05, Psychochemical Agents, in an effort to uncover compounds that would cause temporary mental and/or motor incapacitation of enemy soldiers or civilians” (p. 128-9); “(S) At Fort Detrick the screening and evaluation of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and rickettsiae produced additional information…” (p.138); “Cereal rusts received the greatest emphasis among anticrop agents, particularly in regard to dissemination and spread” (p.140).
Of note: Mentions the obscure nerve agent VP, which the Corps had synthesized and designated as a “candidate” for chemical warfare (p.47); “In May 1955 the Corps established a new subproject, ‘4-08-03-016-05, Psychochemical Agents,’ with the short title, MM-1605, to uncover and develop promising agents [capable of affecting the mind]…. Under this subproject, compounds were to be synthesized, and then screened to ascertain their value in causing symptoms of delusion, hallucination, mania, delirium, psychosis, depression, suicidal tendencies, paralysis, incoordination, convulsions, listlessness, weakness, headache, nausea, dizziness, defects in hearing, sight, or judgment, and cutaneous disorders like urticaria” (p.48-9); “During FY 1955 three new organisms were chosen for screening…” (p.59); “Final research tests were conducted on a pathogen for rice and a pathogen for potatoes (p.60); “One of the most important defensive measures which the Corps investigated as the protection of civilians and soldiers by means of a smoke screen against the intense heat evolved during the explosion of an atom bomb” (p.62); “Total agent [GB] production for the fiscal year was approximately 898,000 gallons” (p.141).
Tactical BW system requirement to be included in maneuvers and CPX (command post exercise); “chemical annexes” not communicated to NATO (p.2); “toxics” shipped to the Far East (p.3); EXERCISE BROWN DERBY (p.4-5); Chemical Corp BW plan developed at Camp Detrick (BW and vaccines) with a contract to a “medical school” (p.6); B. anthracis development at Vigo, Indiana (p. 7); aerosol tests at Hollman AFB, along with R & D of other BW agents (p.8); projects involving poultry, swine, horses, and ruminants were discontinued. Plum Island and Kenya continued (p.9).
Summary of Major Events and Problems (Fiscal Year 1953)
Of note: A feature of General Creasy’s visit to the Far East was a meeting with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek on Formosa. The Chinese leader was particularly interested in defense against possible BW attack (p.18); Discovery of a variety of agents for munitions including those utilizing waste fission products and hence not competing with the atomic program (p.30).
Summary History of the Chemical Corps Activities (9 September 1951 to 31 December 1952), February 1953.
Of note: Chem Corps facilities (p.8); Korea (p.26-31); Three new intelligence publications (p.36).
Summary History of the Chemical Corps (25 June 1950 – 8 September 1951)
Of note: “The opening of hostilities in Korea found the Chemical Corps unprepared for war, although there was a nucleus of well-trained personnel and adequate quantities of defensive equipment” (p.3); “At the end of World War II, the Allies learned the secrets of the new powerful German nerve gases, which are now in production in the United States – and probably in Russia” (p.4); “The field of biological warfare was represented by several items. Agent TX was the first anti-crop pathogen standardized by the Chemical Corps. Normally employed with the M1 agent carrier, it was very effective against cereal crops” (p.13).
* Summary of Events and Problems files were originally hosted at Russ Kick’s Memory Hole.
** Blanche Wiesen Cook, “Presidential Papers in Crisis: Some Thoughts on Lies, Secrets, and Silence,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 26 (1996): 285-92.