More evidence for having IRBs: sociologist finds that US Army released toxic cadmium into St. Louis air in the 1950s and 1960s

A sociologist in St. Louis says she has discovered an unknown story involving the US Army releasing cadmium into the air in the 1950s.

The aerosol was sprayed from blowers installed on rooftops and mounted on vehicles. ”The Army claims that they were spraying a quote ‘harmless’ zinc cadmium sulfide,” says Dr. Lisa Martino-Taylor, Professor of Sociology, St. Louis Community College. Yet Martino-Taylor points out, cadmium was a known toxin at the time of the spraying in the mid 50?s and mid 60?s. Worse, she says the aerosol was laced with a fluorescent additive – a suspected radiological compound – produced by U.S. Radium, a company linked to the deaths of workers at a watch factory decades before.

Martino-Taylor says thousands upon thousands of St. Louis residents likely inhaled the spray. ”The powder was milled to a very, very fine particulate level.  This stuff traveled for up to 40 miles.  So really all of the city of St. Louis was ultimately inundated by  the stuff.”

Martino-Taylor says she’s obtained documents from multiple federal agencies showing the government concocted an elaborate story to keep the testing secret. “There was a reason this was kept secret.  They knew that the people of St. Louis would not tolerate it.” She says part of the deception came from false news reports planted by government agencies.  “And they told local officials and media that they were going to test clouds under which to hide the city in the event of aerial attack.” Martino-Taylor says some of the key players in the cover-up were also members of the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project and involved in other radiological testing across the United States at the time. “This was against all military guidelines of the day, against all ethical guidelines, against all international codes such as the Nuremberg Code.”

She says the spraying occurred between 1953 and 54 and again from 1963 to 65 in areas of North St. Louis and eventually in parts of South St. Louis. Martino-Taylor launched her research after hearing independent reports of cancers among city residents living in those areas at the time.

When students ask why we have Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) and why it may seem they have researchers jump through a series of hoops, I remind them of stories like this. This experiment even took place after the establishment of the beginnings of the modern ethical guidelines for science  through the Nuremberg Code. It is not too long ago when the government and other organizations undertook silent experiments and violated two of the primary ethical principles sociologists and others hold to: do not harm participants and ensure that they are participating on a voluntary basis.

Another note: it sounds like these experiments were justified in the name of safety. The tests were conducted under the cover that the city needed to prepare for a possible bombing, presumably by Russia.

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