Last week, a sociologist and professor at St. Louis Community College made claims that she had discovered the U.S. Army spraying a radioactive substance over the city more than 50 years ago. Now, two senators from the state have filed requests for more information.
KDSK reported that this revelation is Lisa Martino-Taylor’s “life’s work.” It began, she writes in her dissertation, when a colleague revealed her diagnosis of breast cancer and shared her concern that it could have been a result of the military spraying her school and home area in the 1950s. Martino-Taylor alleges the Army added “radioactive particles” to a chemical it sprayed over the St. Louis area and in Corpus Christi, Texas, and other cities. The Army has not confirmed this, nor does Martino-Taylor have hard proof of a radioactive substance being deposited on the town, but that a substance was sprayed is true.
In the abstract of her report. Martino-Taylor describes the project as an “obscure aerosol study in St. Louis, Missouri, conducted under contract by the U.S. military from 1953–1954, and 1963–1965.” This study she believes was part of the government’s testing to understand how radioactive weapons could effect citizens.
The documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act requests shows what she believes was a Cold War experiment of the material on residents under the guise of it being tests of smoke screens for their protection.
One of the figures from a now unclassified document from Martino-Taylor’s dissertation showing an aerosol sprayer on a car.
The documents, KDSK reports, state that the material was safe and not harmful to health, but Martino-Taylor points out that a fluorescent material was added to zinc cadmium sulfide, which was the main component.
This fluorescent material, she believes, could have had radioactive substances included. KDSK explains why:
For the first time, she links the St. Louis testing to a company called US Radium, a company notorious for lawsuits involving radioactive contamination of its workers.
“US radium had this reputation where they had been found legally liable for producing a radioactive powdered paint that killed many young women who painted fluorescent watch tiles,” said Martino-Taylor.
Watch KDSK’s report:
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out though that while these claims may seem “shocking,” as Martino-Taylor puts it, the Army admitted after the project was revealed to Congress in 1994 that it was part of biological testing, not a smoke screen test. Here’s what the Post-Dispatch wrote (emphasis added):
If that sounds far-fetched, it was: The Army conceded later that the tests were part of a biological weapons program and that St. Louis was chosen because it roughly matched the population and terrain of Russian cities that the United States might attack.
In 1997, the National Research Council — an arm of the National Academy of Sciences — minimized the health impacts of the chemical tests but concluded that more analysis was needed. The team of scientists did not consider ethical questions but observed that people were “outraged” at being subjected to chemical testing without their consent.
One of the figures from a now unclassified document from Martino-Taylor’s dissertation shows men setting up a sprayer on top of a building in St. Louis.
The Post-Dispatch goes on to report that Martino-Taylor also concedes that even with her research, she has no empirical evidence that residents were actually tested with radioactive material. But she said there is “an awful lot of evidence that there were radiological components to the study.”
Still, the Associated Press reports Democratic Sen.Claire McCaskill and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt each making requests last Thursday to Army Secretary John McHugh for more information. As the National Academy of Sciences said in the 1990s that more research was needed, McCaskill asked if further studies were ever done on the substance sprayed on the area and its influence on residents.
“The idea that thousands of Missourians were unwillingly exposed to harmful materials in order to determine their health effects is absolutely shocking. It should come as no surprise that these individuals and their families are demanding answers of government officials,” Blunt wrote in his letter, according to the Associated Press.
Martino-Taylor writes in her dissertation that she hopes this information will lead to the “[development] of public policies that protect the people’s right to know, and construct checks and methods to minimize the chance of covert projects that are contrary to societal norms.”
Martino-Taylor’s dissertation on her research was presented last week at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Read the dissertation here .
This story has been updated to correct that Lisa Martino-Taylor already has her Ph.D.