WASHINGTON About 9,000 Americans, including children and newborns, were used in 154 human radiation tests sponsored by the Energy Department's Cold War predecessors, officials said Thursday.
The figures released by the Energy Department's Office of Human Radiation Experiments indicate the scope of the experimentation was greater than previously known. It does not include tests done by the Pentagon and other federal agencies.
The information released Thursday includes experiments conducted at Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state and the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
Between 1965-72, 18 INEL employees swallowed or inhaled radioactive material to assist in the calibration of whole-body counters. In most cases, the material swallowed was encapsulated to keep it from being absorbed into body tissues, the Energy Department said.
Another INEL experiment exposed five people to radioactive iodine from 1963-68 to trace its progress through the digestive tract.
At Hanford in 1963, two employees volunteered to inhale radioactive iodine.
The report also notes several human experiments, which have been reported previously, including people who drank radioactive iodine in cow's milk and the 1949 Green Run, when radioactive iodine and xenon were intentionally released to obtain information for monitoring Soviet nuclear activities.
The report also said that radiation was routinely released into the environment as a byproduct of processing activities at Hanford.
Ellyn Weiss, director of the radiation office, told a news conference that within a few months the department expected to report details of an additional 150 or so radiation experiments on humans. She did not say whether the department had an estimate now of how many people, beyond the 9,000, were used.
"We are proud of shining a light on this previously untold part of the atomic age," Weiss said.
The department had said last fall that it knew of about 100 radiation experiments; it provided no public estimate then of how many people were involved.
An assessment of the ethical implications of the government-wide human radiation experiments from the Cold War years, including those reported by Weiss's office, is being done by an outside advisory panel appointed by President Clinton.
A coalition of organizations representing radiation test survivors, called the Task Force on Radiation and Human Rights, issued a statement Thursday urging people who think they may have been a subject of an Energy Department test to come forward.
"There is no way of really knowing if damage was done unless we find those who were subjected to the experiments," said Cooper Brown, the group's coordinator.
Not all of the experiments, which began in the 1940s, were done in clinical settings. Some involved the deliberate release of radioactive materials into the environment. A few were collaborative efforts abroad, in one case using healthy Peruvian students and in another case involving British subjects.
Some participated with little or no knowledge of the risks they faced, but government investigators said they have not yet assembled enough documentation to know for sure how many subjects were informed or to what degree.
In the 1940s, the Atomic Energy Commission granted approval for use of radioactive isotopes in human research at some institutions, such as university hospitals, but there was no oversight of the ethical practices of the physicians.
In the 1950s, the commission had a policy of requiring informed consent from the human subjects, as well as other ethical guidelines, but the Energy Department's investigators said it is unclear whether any effort was made to ensure that researchers knew the policy or to enforce it.
"No documents have been found indicating that the AEC did either," the department said in a 300-page report released Thursday outlining not only the 154 experiments but also a description of the reasons the tests were conducted.
One of the motivations was to better understand the effects of radioactive fallout from nuclear test blasts in the Pacific and in the southwestern United States. Some of the other work was done in connection with cancer research.
Among the experiments reported by Weiss's office Thursday:
In 1956, seven patients at the Salt Lake Veterans Administration Hospital and two staff members were injected with radioactive strontium-85 in a University of Utah experiment to learn more about the likely metabolism of fallout from atomic testing. Five of the patients had normal bone metabolism and two had osteoporosis. The work was supported by the Atomic Energy Commission.
At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., a 1969 experiment used 86 newborn babies with respiratory problems. They were given blood laced with chromium-50, a radioactive substance, to measure red blood cell volumes and determine the timing of hemorrhaging.
A graduate student at the University of Rochester conducted a study in 1963 to investigate the body's metabolism of radioactive iodine in dairy products. People aged 6 to 50 were given milk from a cow that had been fed radioactive iodine-131. One of the children subsequently developed thyroid cancer.
The Donner Laboratory of Medical Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, used radioactive iron-59 in healthy medical students in Peru to study the effects of reduced barometric pressure, as seen in high-altitude flights. This study, reported in 1952, was supported by the AEC, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force.