U.S. TESTED A NERVE GAS IN HAWAII
01 Nov 2002
Source: New York Times, November 1, 2002.
U.S. Tested a Nerve Gas in Hawaii
By THOM SHANKER
WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 -- In the latest release of once-classified reports on chemical warfare tests during the cold war, the Pentagon said today that it detonated artillery shells and rockets filled with deadly Sarin gas in Hawaii in 1967.
There were no reports of military personnel or civilians being exposed to the nerve agent during the tests, conducted in the Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve, a dense rain forest on the island of Hawaii, Pentagon officials said.
Sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent that is absorbed through the nose, mouth, eyes and, to a lesser extent, the skin, can block breathing, dim vision and, in sufficient doses, bring on coma and death.
It dissipates to nondeadly levels after a few hours, Pentagon health officials said. Even so, the Pentagon report said, "very little information is available regarding long-term health effects following exposures to low levels that do not cause acute symptoms."
According to the reports, released today by the Deployment Health Support Directorate, a branch of the Pentagon office of Health Affairs, the Army detonated warheads filled with Sarin in the forest reserve in April and May of 1967.
The goal of the test, named Red Oak, Phase 1, was to "evaluate the effectiveness of Sarin-filled 155-mm artillery projectiles and 115-mm rocket warheads in a tropical jungle environment," the report states.
Barbara Goodno, a spokeswoman for the Deployment Health Support Directorate, said the tests were in a "remote location, far away from any populated area."
The five new studies released today are the latest in a series of declassified reports about the chemical warfare experiments. Pentagon officials said 46 exercises were conducted by the Deseret Test Center, based at Fort Douglas, Utah, from 1962 to 1973. Today's release brings to 41 the number of tests whose reports have been declassified.
The tests were not conducted to study the effects of chemical and biological weapons on human health. Instead, those on land were to learn more about how chemical and biological weapons would be affected by climate, environment and other combat conditions. Tests at sea were intended to gauge the vulnerability of warships and how they might respond to attack.
The Defense Department is working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify an estimated 5,500 people believed to have participated in the land and sea tests. It is not known whether all the military personnel were fully aware of the nature of the exercises and the potential risks.
The new reports also describe three previously unknown tests that were conducted using less-toxic substances in the Panama Canal Zone, and another in an unspecified jungle location.
CS gas, commonly known as tear gas, was used in the jungle location.
In tests conducted in the Canal Zone, a biological agent called Bacillus globigii, in the same family as anthrax, was sprayed to simulate the dispersal of a more lethal biological warfare substance.
At the time, Bacillus globigii was considered harmless, but in the intervening years medical experts have determined that it could cause acute infections in people with weakened immune systems.
One series of tests in the Canal Zone, in which Bacillus globigii was sprayed by aircraft, was conducted near the Fort Sherman Military Reservation in February and March 1963. In a related series of tests, the substance was exploded from bomblets in Hawaii in April and May 1966.