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thedrifter
11-16-05, 02:23 PM
November 16, 2005
Bill would order probe of 1962-1974 toxic exposure
By Deborah Funk
Times staff writer

An independent commission would investigate secret chemical and biological tests conducted 30 to 40 years ago on U.S. service members, and what led up to the testing, under a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., recently introduced the Veterans Right to Know Act to create a commission modeled after the one that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“This is about openness, honesty and forthrightness in government,” Rehberg said. “Above all, it’s about doing the right thing and uncovering the truth.”

Between 1962 and 1974, the U.S. government carried out tests on land and sea measuring dispersal patterns of toxic or deadly agents, spraying devices, the vulnerability of ships to such attacks, and other related issues. The tests were conducted under the name Project 112, with the tests conducted at sea known as Shipboard Hazard and Defense, or SHAD.

The materials used in the tests often were harmless, or at least considered to be harmless at the time, but would disperse like real chemicals or germs. At times, however, the tests involved live nerve agents, such as VX nerve gas and the germ tularemia.

Some service members knew they were involved in the tests, yet for some, the extent of their knowledge, such as what agents were used, was limited, and others apparently were not aware they were taking part in such tests. And even those who were aware have said they need to know whether they suffer any illnesses as a result.

Under pressure from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Pentagon has released information about the tests. But some veterans say defense officials still have not released all medically-relevant information, particularly data on the dosage levels of the agents they were exposed to.

“Today, these veterans have the right to know what they were exposed to so that they can receive the health care they need and deserve,” Thompson said.

The bill, HR 4259, calls for a commission to examine both classified and unclassified material regarding the tests, including safety plans and test results. Included in the probe would be how much of each material — whether it be tracer, decontaminant, live agent or stimulant, was used — and any information collected during health screenings.

Members would be appointed by the president and both parties in Congress. The committee’s final report would be due within three years of its first meeting.

The commission would review information on tests between 1954 and 1973. Although Project 112 did not begin until 1962, the commission would be able to review information that led up to that program.

Ellie