The government’s primary purpose is to safeguard its citizens at all costs. But what if you found out the government has been conducting experiments with complete disregard of your safety? This is precisely what happened in the United States, back when little to nothing was known about radiation.
In the 1940s and 1950s, little was known about the effects of radiation on humans. To study it, the US government performed radiation tests on unknowing participants such as patients, pregnant women, prisoners, and mentally disabled children.
Human Radiation Experiments
When the Manhattan Project was established, scientists had little understanding of the effects of uranium and plutonium on human health, despite using it to build weapons of mass destruction.
The project’s leaders quickly realized the implications of their experiments and soon established a health division. The division was led by Dr. Stafford Warren, a radiologist at the University of Rochester. Warren was assigned as the chief medical officer who had three main objectives: to protect the health of the project workers, protect the public from any risks that may arise from the project, study radiation hazards, and establish treatments and tolerances.
Laboratories soon worked on data taken from instruments, blood and urine samples, and physical exams to quickly understand and protect the project workers. Scientists also performed radiation experiments on animals.
However, the information gained was insufficient to determine the radiation guidelines for the workers. In 1944, Warren concluded that controlled testing on humans was necessary. The plan was to inject civilian patients with radioactive elements like polonium, plutonium, and uranium. The experiment ran from April 1945 to July 1947 and was performed at Manhattan project affiliated hospitals in Rochester, Oak Ridge, Chicago, and San Francisco.
Eighteen subjects were injected with plutonium, six with uranium, five with polonium, and one with americium. Due to the secrecy of the experiment, many of the physicians were unaware of the exact substances they were injecting the patients with. And of the 30 or so patients, only one signed a consent form, a form which did not even fully explain the medical procedure or its risks.
The methodology of sampling patients was also unclear. There were no direct similarities with the patients except that they were all not part of the Manhattan Project. The experiments continued into the Cold War, all of which were kept secret to the public.
In the 1990s, the Albuquerque Tribune uncovered the said experiments. Then-president Bill Clinton launched an Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, and the Department of Energy undertook an extensive investigation into these experiments.
As a result, many documents were declassified, and numerous hearings were done. In 1995, the DOE released a report detailing the experiments, made ethical judgments, and gave recommendations on how Congress should proceed. Soon after, laws to prohibit secretive scientific testing on humans were passed. (Source: Atomic Heritage)
The Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was the US research and development project created during the second world war. The project was established in 1942 and was called such because its first office was at 270 Broadway, Manhattan.
The project cost about $ 2 million and was focused on developing atomic weaponry, whose later devices caused entire cities to be wiped out. The Manhattan project is credited with having invented the atomic bombs Little Boy and Fat Man, which flattened out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The head of the project, General Leslie R. Groves, ensured the secrecy and security of the project. Even though over 130,000 people were employed, most of them didn’t understand their tasks.
It was even reported that a laundress was assigned a tool and was to listen for clicking noises. The laundress didn’t know she was holding a Geiger counter used to check the radiation levels of uniforms. (Source: Fantastic Facts)