Category Archives: Worker Health & Safety

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. [70] In many cases the opportunity to obscure the full purpose of research by careful wording was obvious.

As a DOD document put it, “the term ‘radiobiology’ is so flexible semantically that, depending upon the investigator’s point of view, any project could be classified as ‘clinical’ or ‘basic’ or ‘nuclear weapons effects.’ ” [71]

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].

Miscellaneous McFarland correspondence on RMA worker exposure studies were a “cover” for testing a Sarin antidote, 2-PAM.  Workers eventually sued the University of Colorado.

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.