Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Zinc Cadmium Sulfide Dispersal

One of my coworkers found it difficult to believe that the U.S. Government knowingly dispersed a chemical agent over Minneapolis approximately forty years ago (actually, 1953, so fifty years ago, and sixty-one sprayings) to simulate bacterial dispersal for warfare reasons. This post is for her.

"Cadmium has been the center of an ongoing debate about the health effects of secret Army tests conducted during the 1950s and 1960s. Because of fears during the Second World War that a foreign country might develop biological weapons and use them against the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the U.S. Biological Warfare Program as a research initiative to counter the threat. At the height of research in the 1950s and 1960s, the program conducted large-scale, secret tests over 33 major U.S. cities including Minneapolis, Corpus Christi, TX, Fort Wayne, IN, and St. Louis, MO.

To simulate a large-scale biological attack, particles of zinc cadmium sulfide (ZnCdS) were dispersed into the air from trucks at target locations outside of these cities. The ZnCdS was intended to simulate bacteria particles, allowing army researchers to study how biological warfare agents disperse in the atmosphere and to determine how much of such an agent would be required to target an urban population. ZnCdS was chosen because it was fluorescent under ultra-violet lamps, it was inexpensive, and it was thought to be harmless to plants and animals at the time. Over 300 tests were conducted around the nation at different times of day so that essentially all sectors of the population in each city were exposed to the chemical." (link)

The government and various scientists deny there's any lasting damage related to ZnCdS, but in the same breath it's acknowledged that Cadmium is a carcinogenic and was a problem considered in the wake of 9/11 when many of those in and near the WTC were exposed to building materials, jet fuel, etc., and developed persistent coughs. It's also acknowledged that any resolution to the spraying as a health issue isn't based on studying the population, just on an assessment of the breakdown of the chemical and probable absorbtion by the body.
"...would be extremely difficult to identify the people who were affected and to determine their past exposures to zinc cadmium sulfide. Even if they were found, there is a lack of data on their health before, during, and after exposure. And it would take a huge sample of exposed residents to detect even a small increase in health problems."

As an addendum, note that that particular link includes the fact that it wasn't just zinc sulfide that was dumped on cities, but other microorganisms as well.

The spraying wasn't generally well known until the 1990's, when there was a ruckus about whether it had actually affected Minnesotans in the Star Tribune and in a series on KTCA, and Marty Sabo and Paul Wellstone became involved, working anti-testing wording into the 1995 defense appropriations bill.

U.S. Representative Marty Sabo, a Democrat from Minnesota, denounced “the secret Army program to spray Minneapolis and other cities with chemicals in the 1950s and ’60s,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in September 1994. “The idea that the government would use its own citizens as guinea pigs is appalling, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Sabo told a House subcommittee investigating the secret spraying, which used fluorescent tracers to mark wind patterns.

As for the Army, it argues that the secret Cold War-era spraying was not “human experimentation” since it didn’t target any specific individuals and the zinc cadmium sulfide used was harmless. But the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists all cadmium compounds as known cancer-causing agents.

Former students of Clinton Elementary in south Minneapolis told an investigating panel from the National Research Council that the Army’s secret chemical spraying adversely affected their health, according to the Star Tribune.

Hence, not just a rumor. Fact. It was sprayed and it was sprayed to mimic biological dispersion on another population by using U.S. citizens as guinea pigs.

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