I read recently about a housing project in St. Louis, the infamous Pruitt-Igoe, where the government sprayed nerve gases off the roof to see what effect it would have on the people living there—testing it for its potential use as a weapon in war.
ST. LOUIS – Doris Spates was a baby when her father died inexplicably in 1955. She has watched four siblings die of cancer, and she survived cervical cancer.
After learning that the Army conducted secret chemical testing in her impoverished St. Louis neighborhood at the height of the Cold War, she wonders if her own government is to blame.
In the mid-1950s, and again a decade later, the Army used motorized blowers atop a low-income housing high-rise, at schools and from the backs of station wagons to send a potentially dangerous compound into the already-hazy air in predominantly black areas of St. Louis.
Local officials were told at the time that the government was testing a smoke screen that could shield St. Louis from aerial observation in case the Russians attacked.
But in 1994, the government said the tests were part of a biological weapons program and St. Louis was chosen because it bore some resemblance to Russian cities that the U.S. might attack. The material being sprayed was zinc cadmium sulfide, a fine fluorescent powder.
Now, new research is raising greater concern about the implications of those tests. St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor's research has raised the possibility that the Army performed radiation testing by mixing radioactive particles with the zinc cadmium sulfide, though she concedes there is no direct proof.
The St Jo Program and Large Area Concept
The success of the first field tests only increased demand for more experiments. In response to an Air Force request, in 1953 the Chemical Corps created the St Jo Program and operatives staged mock anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg. The bacteria were released from generators placed on top of cars, and local governments were told that “invisible smokescreen[s]” were being deployed to mask the city on enemy radar. The next stage was to increase dispersal patterns, dispensing particles from airplanes to find out how wide of an area they would affect. The first Large Area Concept experiment, in 1957, involved dispersing microorganisms over a swath from South Dakota to Minnesota; monitoring revealed that some of the particles eventually traveled some 1200 miles away. Further tests covered areas from Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas. In the Army’s words, these experiments “proved the feasibility of covering large areas of the country with [biological weapons] agents.”
Airports and Subways
Serratia marcescens bacteria. Open-air testing continued through the 1960s, with the Special Operations Division operatives simulating even more audacious assaults. In 1965 they spread bacteria throughout Washington’s National Airport; a year later, agents dropped light bulbs filled with organisms onto the tracks in New York’s subway system. “I think it spread pretty good,” participant Wally Pannier later said, “because you had a natural aerosol developed every few minutes from every train that went past.” President Nixon’s 1969 termination of the United States offensive biological weapons program brought an end to the open-air testing, but the American public did not learn of this testing until 1977.
As I recall from other articles, one of the objectives of these tests was to determine how well nerve gas would disperse and penetrate living spaces in the event of a US attack on the Soviet Union, but the link only mentions biological weapons.
But St. Louis was also the subject of tests using an explicitly biological agent;
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