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Pentagon: Chem, bio tests involved U.S. troops

The USS George Eastman decontaminates after a nuclear test. The ship was used to monitor nuclear tests in the 1950s and for chemical and biological warfare tests in the '60s.
The USS George Eastman decontaminates after a nuclear test. The ship was used to monitor nuclear tests in the 1950s and for chemical and biological warfare tests in the '60s.  

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon revealed for the first time Thursday that almost 3,000 U.S. military personnel were involved in Cold War-era tests involving actual chemical and biological agents.

Pentagon officials said they believe no service members were exposed to the deadly agents but said military participants should have been better informed of the details and risks of the tests.

The tests -- conducted under the code-name Project SHAD, an acronym for Shipboard Hazard and Defense -- were designed to assess the vulnerability of U.S. Navy ships during a time when the United States was actively involved in both offensive and defensive tests of nerve gas and deadly germs.

Pentagon report on Project SHAD 

The tests involved Navy ships, and the crews of those ships helped conduct and assess the tests, officials said.

Officials said that in no case were military personnel used as guinea pigs, and all were protected from the deadly agents in accordance with the best knowledge of the time. Animals, usually monkeys, were used to test the effects of the chemical and biological agents, the officials said.

However, officials said those conducting the tests were not as well-protected as they should have been.

"Under actual test conditions, test conductors should have worn appropriate nuclear, biological and chemical protective equipment and should have taken extensive safety precautions to prevent any adverse health effects from the testing," the fact sheet released Thursday said.

Altogether, there were 103 tests scheduled between 1960 and 1970, but so far the Pentagon has only confirmed 12 took place. Three of the tests used live nerve agents, one used a live biological agent and one used a stimulant that, while considered harmless at the time, has since been found to be hazardous.

In one case, an unmanned barge, towed one kilometer (.625 miles) behind a Navy ship, was doused with the nerve agent VX to test the ability of the Navy to decontaminate it.

In another test, Navy crews were confined to a sealed area of a ship while it was sprayed by airplanes with deadly Sarin nerve gas, but did not come out until the ship had been "decontaminated." Officials said they found there were no deaths or immediate health complaints at the time.

The Pentagon began sifting through classified information about the 1960s tests in August 2000, after some veterans expressed concern they might be suffering ill health effects because of exposure to harmful substances.

Two previous Pentagon reports found five tests used only "harmless stimulants" and a single test used a stimulant that could have caused illness in someone with a compromised immune system.

Thursday's report was the first acknowledgement by the U.S. government that several tests used either Sarin or VX.

As a result of the findings, some 600 veterans have been mailed letters informing them of their involvement in the highly classified project, and directing them to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs if they have health complaints or desire a medical evaluation.




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