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Damning Evidence Reveals Radioactive Contamination of St. Louis Citizens (continued)

by Sandy Griffin

Martino-Taylor conducted a preliminary investigation but found very little information. "I was troubled by the invisibility," she said, "so I took it on as my PhD project."

After numerous Freedom of Information Act requests (involving 14 different agencies) Martino-Taylor learned that in 1953 and 1954 the US Army Chemical Corps contracted with Stanford's Research Institute (SRI) and Monsanto (developer of the Cyclotron) to conduct a number of tests. At that time the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and local officials and police were told that these were tests of "smoke-screens" designed to hide St. Louis from possible Soviet attack.

The study described the test area as "an urban slum." Targeted was the Desoto-Carr neighborhood of North St. Louis, home to the Pruitt-Igoe housing project and populated by very poor people of color. (Pruitt-Igoe was a 33-building complex with 10,000 residents. All were Black and 70% were children.) Altogether 23,000 residents in 50 square blocks (five square miles) experienced at least 200 "release events" during 1953 and 1954.

Part-time laborers were hired to operate generator-run blowers that sprayed out a powder described at the time as a "harmless" fluorescent zinc-cadmium. The powder was manufactured by New Jersey Zinc and U.S. Radium. Heading the study was SRI's Philip Leighton, a specialist in airborne isotopes.

The laborers placed black boxes on lightpoles, rooftops, and inside homes to measure the rate of "fallout" as the powder spread and permeated buildings. (The particles in the powder had been milled to a very small size to "maximize lung absorption.")

Martino-Taylor discovered that there was a second, highly-classified study "embedded" in the first. (In other words, not everyone in the first study was aware of the embedded one.) In the embedded study, the research materials were collected and processed in a secure off-site lab.

A decade later, another set of tests (referred to as "public health studies") were conducted in St. Louis by the US Army and the US Public Health Service (USPHS). This time the spray zone was expanded to 40 square miles. Using USPHS equipment, the Army tracked airborne radioactive particles at 316 sampling sites placed up to 5 miles away from the spraying source. Between May 1963 and March 1965 over a ton of radioactive powder was sprayed. (The powder's manufacturer, US Radium, was by now already in legal trouble for producing the paint that led to the death of young women painting glow-in-the-dark watch dials. Incidentally, their deaths were due to inhalation of the paint fumes, not the licking of paintbrushes).

Background Story

A lot more information still remains classified, said Martino-Taylor. But she said the story begins with the Manhattan Project, when top scientists from across the US were recruited by the military to develop the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, NM -- with support by researchers in Rochester, NY. These scientists were sworn in as military officers and were selected to comprise a secret group tasked with developing "weaponized radiation."

Martino-Taylor found that because the word "plutonium" was classified, the words "product" or "material" were used as substitute words in correspondence between scientists and government officials. Martino-Taylor displayed a 1944 letter from Joseph W. Kennedy to Louis Hempelmann (who left Washington University in St. Louis to head the Rochester Manhattan Project). The letter described studies focusing on the "detection of active material in biological materials" which, according to Martino-Taylor, translates as "radiation in humans."

Hempelmann began studies related to human plutonium exposure at Los Alamos. His subjects were dying humans who had been exposed to high levels of radioactivity. In 1945, Hempelmann lobbied for an expansion of the human studies, writing to Robert Oppenheimer and suggesting that unsuspecting hospital patients be chosen for plutonium injections. (Martino-Taylor found that such injections were given later that year to at least five people at Oak Ridge Hospital in Oak Ridge, TN.)

Hempelmann, who married Elinor Wickham Pulitzer (the daughter of Joseph Pulitzer), returned to St. Louis after the Manhattan Project, accompanied by Joseph W. Kennedy and Arthur C. Wahl. In 1952, under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the US Air Force, and the Rand Corporation, they all became part of what was called Project Gabriel. Project Gabriel analyzed radiation in the environment, particularly in water.

In 1953 a second project began, this one titled Project Sunshine. Declared "top priority" by the AEC, Project Sunshine was focused on analyzing radiation in humans. Martino-Taylor displayed a damning letter wherein lead researcher Willard Libby lamented the difficulty of obtaining human bodies "especially those of a young age group, except for the large supply of stillborns." Libby went on to make a plea for "anyone who knows how to do body-snatching."


The military actively developed and tested weaponized radiation in the air, the environment, and on humans for use against the Soviets. The military has admitted to studies such as:
a) partial and full body scans
b) injection studies
c) ingestion studies
d) inhalation studies (at both urban and rural sites).

These are all clear violations of medical ethics, international codes, and the Army's own policies.

St. Louis was one of ten cities selected as candidates for radiological testing because all ten had features similar to Stalingrad and Moscow. As a the city with the most similarities, St. Louis became the chosen "pseudo-Soviet test city."

In St. Louis, the public and local officials were actively deceived as to the true nature of these tests.To this day, the military continues to withhold documents pertaining to the St. Louis open air studies, especially those conducted in the 1960s. St. Louis is unique in the high level of classification of its studies. (Martino-Taylor speculates that this withholding is due to even more embedded studies.)

By embedding studies, the military conceals the studies' true nature, which in this case was the development and testing of radiological weapons. Such embodiment "shuts down critical dialogue" said Martino-Taylor. it also violates the rights of individuals involved in the studies.

"Within overtly democratic societies," said Martino-Taylor, "elites can embed non-normative, secret studies within other studies which may appear legitimate and ethical. Without transparency, there can be multiple layers of secret studies." Martino-Taylor followed this comment with a warning: "Don't take any study at face value," she said. "The context is important. Revisit what rules govern the 'keeping of secrets.'"

When asked why she is so passionate about this issue, Martino-Taylor said, "I believe that people have the right to know. And I find it troubling when there are ways around these laws. That's what drives me."

The Audience

A number of those in attendance at Tuesday's public presentation had once lived in or near Pruitt-Igoe during the time of these tests and remember the spraying. "My hair fell out when I was a little girl in 1965," said one woman, "and I thought it was the chlorine in the swimming pool!"

Long lists of relatives who have since died of cancer (many at a young age) were recounted by one person after another. Martino-Taylor said she is considering organizing an oral history project for such survivors of the "Army experiments."

Sandy Griffin is a writer, artist, and activist currently residing in St. Louis, MO.

Editors’ note: Reacting to Martino-Taylor’s discoveries and disclosures, both U.S. Senators from Missouri wrote letters to the US Army about the spraying and its health risks to St. Louis citizens. In a reply to Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army, wrote: “Army investigators reviewed several assessments and studies compiled over the past nearly two decades and found no health risk….” After Blunt’s office released contents of the letter, Martino-Taylor made this statement: “The focus of my research was on the lack of consent, secrecy, deception, organizational structure, and possible connection to a broader radiological program. The Army's letter seems to be relatively silent on those issues. Whether or not this satisfies the senators' concern and curiosity I cannot say, but I do know that it does not mine, and I believe that there are many aspects of this which merit further study. Given the level of secrecy, the original deception, and lack of public input and consent, it would be helpful for further government inquiry to include public hearings and statements from those with concerns and recollections from the open-air study."