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Chemical and Biological Exposures

The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) play distinct roles in dealing with chemical and biological (CB) exposures.

  • The DoD identifies and validates veteran’s exposure to CB agents and provides the names of these individuals along with their exposure information to the VA.
  • The VA then notifies individuals of their potential exposure, provides treatment, if necessary, for these individuals and adjudicates any claim for compensation.

The information is designed to provide Service members, veterans, their families and the public with information on what happened during CB testing conducted years ago that potentially affected the health of those who served. This site provides information on the tests conducted by DoD that possibly resulted in CB exposures only. For privacy reasons, it does not contain the names of the veterans exposed.

Since the end of World War II, DoD periodically evaluated the CB threat and the ability of U.S. forces to fight on a chemical and biological battlefield. In some programs Service members were present but not test subjects and in other programs they were volunteer human subjects. Testing of biological agents on human subjects ended in 1969; testing of chemical agents on human subjects ended in 1975. DoD is investigating these exposures that occurred as far back as 30 to 60 years ago.

All the names discovered by DoD reside in three databases:

  • World War II database
  • Project 112/SHAD database
  • Cold War database

DoD shares these databases with the VA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Warfare Exposure

The DoD and the VA play distinct roles dealing with CB exposures. DoD identifies and validates veteran’s exposure to CB agents and provides the names of individuals along with their exposure information to the VA. The VA then notifies individuals of their potential exposure, provides treatment, if necessary, for these individuals and adjudicates any claim for compensation.

Q1:

How much information can I divulge about my exposure, since I signed a "secrecy oath"?

A:

In 1993, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Perry issued a memorandum on "Chemical Weapons Research Programs Using Human Test Subjects." The memorandum released "any individuals who participated in testing, production, transportation or storage associated with any chemical weapons research conducted prior to 1968 from any non-disclosure restrictions or written or oral prohibitions (e.g., oaths of secrecy) that may have been placed on them concerning their possible exposure to any chemical weapons agents."

Secretary Perry also directed the Services to initiate procedures to release individuals who participated in testing, production, transportation or storage associated with any chemical weapons research after 1968 from any non-disclosure restrictions that may have been placed on them. Since most information relating to this research has been declassified, at least in part, Force Health Protection and Readiness has determined that participants in chemical-related research after 1968 may talk about their individual experiences to the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Department of Veterans Affairs without violating their oath of secrecy.

In January 2011, another memo, "Release from Secrecy Oaths Under Chem-Bio Research Programs", was released. This new memo clarifies and expands the 1993 directive to include biological weapons test subjects.

Q2:

What databases does the Department of Defense (DoD) maintain on veterans exposed to chemical and biological agents?

A:

DoD maintains a Project 112/SHAD (Shipboard Hazard and Defense) database. This database contains the names of veterans who were participated in Project 112/SHAD testing in the 1960s and 1970s. It contains 6,400 names and is updated as needed when we discover additional veterans who were part of this testing. DoD also maintains a database containing the names of veterans who participated in mustard agent tests during World War II. The total numbers to date are 6,730. DoD is also currently in the process of populating our third exposure database, the Cold War Exposure database, which numbers 30,726. This database contains the names of veterans not included in other databases who participated in chemical and biological testing since World War II.

The total number for all of the databases currently is 43,856.

Q3:

Who maintains the database for veterans exposed to radiation?

A:

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency maintains information on veterans exposed to radiation during the Nuclear Test Personnel Review (NTPR) Program.

Q4:

In addition to names and service numbers, what other information does the DoD database contain?

A:

For each individual, the database will contain the following if available:

  • Type of test (i.e., performance, equipment, etc.)
  • Type of exposure (i.e., injection, intravenous (IV), etc.)
  • Date of exposure
  • Agent/simulant name
  • Agent/simulant amount if recorded
  • Treatments required as a result of the exposure
  • Documents describing the test procedures, if available.
Q5:

I think that I may have been involved in a test. How can I confirm it or get more information?

A:

If you need help verifying your possible participation in any of the tests or have information about the testing, please call the Department of Defense's contact managers at (800) 497-6261, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.

Alternatively, you may write to us at:

Health Readiness Policy & Oversight
ATTN: CB Exposures Manager
7700 Arlington Blvd.
Falls Church, VA 22042

If you'd like to speak with a Veterans Affairs (VA) representative, call the Special Issues Helpline at 1-800-749-8387. Many states offer services and benefits to veterans. To find out more about a particular state, please visit the VA State Veterans Affairs page.

Q6:

What substances were used during testing?

A:

The Department of Defense (DoD) has identified over 400 substances used during testing. Not all the substances were harmful as DoD tested many medicines and antidotes. These substances may be broken down as follows:

  • Chemical Agents (e.g., nerve agents, irritants)
  • Biological Agents (e.g., tularemia)
  • Vaccines (e.g., tularemia vaccines)
  • Hallucinogenic drugs (e.g., LSD)
  • Antidotes (e.g., atropine)
  • Medicines (e.g., Benadryl)
  • Other (e.g., alcohol, saline solution)
  • Tracers
  • Placebos
Q7:

Does the Department of Defense still conduct human experimentation with chemical and biological warfare agents?

A:

No. Current medical chemical & biological defense programs involving human subjects do not involve the exposure of these subjects to chemical or biological warfare agents.

There are medical chemical & biological defense programs that involve the use of human subjects in controlled clinical trials to test and evaluate the safety and effectiveness, of medical products (drugs, therapies, etc.) to protect against chemical agents. The use of human subjects in these trials involves volunteers who have provided informed consent. All use of human subjects in these trials is in full compliance with the "Common Rule," Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), DoD Directives and Instructions, and all other applicable laws, regulations, issuances, and requirements.

Q8:

Does the Department of Defense (DoD) know where all the documents relating to chemical/biological agent testing are stored?

A:

The contractor doing the research for DoD on potential exposures has over 10 years of experience working with potential exposures. This experience enabled them to quickly identify major document storage locations and to prioritize their search efforts. More important is whether or not a storage site catalogued its documents. If a storage site did not catalogue its collection, researchers must comb through all material to locate the small subset that contains exposure information. This slows down the search effort.

Before terminating our efforts to locate potential chemical and biological exposures, DoD will work with its contractor to insure that the contractor did not miss any storage site that potentially contained a significant number of exposures.

Project 112/SHAD

Q1:

Are there plans to notify those affected?

A:

Yes, the Veterans Affairs (VA) has taken the responsibility for outreach to veterans. In addition to personal notification by letter, the VA operates a toll free Helpline at (800) 479-8387 for veterans and maintains a Project 112/SHAD webpage. Please contact the VA Public Affairs office at (202) 273-5705 for more details about their program to contact veterans.

Q2:

Did the FDA and CDC approve these tests?

A:

The agencies that became the CDC and the Public Health Service were aware of the conduct of the tests and assisted in their planning to assure the safety of the U.S. population and those participating. The FDA would not normally exercise any regulatory authority over this type of test, so they were not involved.

Q3:

Have you provided names to the VA?

A:

Yes, for each fact sheet that we published we provided the VA lists of those known to be involved. Because crew lists and unit rosters are not classified, we provided them to the VA while the declassification effort was underway. This gave the VA an opportunity to begin converting Service numbers into social security numbers to find addresses for these veterans in advance of the announcement.

Q4:

How many of these tests were there and where are they listed?

A:

The Deseret Test Center planned 134 chemical and biological warfare tests to be conducted between 1962 and 1973. DoD's investigation has confirmed that 84 of these tests were not executed and 50 are known to have been conducted. 

Q5:

How many people died from these tests?

A:

Our investigation has not revealed any cases of illness related to exposures at the time of the tests. We have found no evidence in DoD records that anyone died as a result of exposures during any Deseret Test Center test.

Q6:

How much did the investigation cost?

A:

We have not calculated the costs, and that is not a factor in determining what work we do to protect the health of veterans and Service members. This work was fully integrated into all the other activities of our office, so its cost would be difficult to separate.

Q7:

Some Deseret Test Centers have names or numbers what is the difference?

A:

All Deseret Test Center tests were designated by test numbers. Initially the test center assigned cover names to the tests as well, but in the later years of the program this stopped. There is no difference between these later tests and the others in terms of the level of security or risk.

Q8:

The biological agent known as wheat rust was it sprayed in other states?

A:

The investigation into the work of the Deseret Test Center has found only one test that they conducted using Wheat Stem Rust, DTC Test 69-75 at Yeehaw Junction, Florida in late 1968.

Q9:

Veterans involved in these tests how will they know it is safe to come forward?

A:

Some veterans have told us they are concerned about possibly releasing classified information about these tests when discussing their health concerns. We have discussed these concerns with staff at the (VA) and advised them that veterans may provide details that affect their health with their health care provider. In turn, the VA included our response in their notification letter:

"You may provide details that affect your health to your health care provider. For example, you may discuss what you believe your exposure was at the time, reactions, treatment you sought or received, and the general location and time of the tests. On the other hand, you should not discuss anything that relates to operation information that might reveal chemical or biological warfare vulnerabilities or capabilities."

Veterans are welcome to contact our staff at (800) 497-6261 for confirmation that they will not violate security requirements by stating that they were involved in Deseret Test Center tests.

Q10:

Was Deseret Test Center an Army Program?

A:

Deseret Test Center was a joint service program based at Army facilities with staff from all the Services. Army and Navy vessels were used, as well as Marine Corps and Air Force aircraft, and members of all four Services were involved.

Q11:

Were civilians included in these tests?

A:

Some government civilians were involved in the tests, all of whom were Department of Defense employees or contractors. For some of the land-based testing using simulants still believed to be harmless to humans, it appears people may have been exposed without their knowledge.

Q12:

What is the Deseret Test Center and how does it relate to Project SHAD?

A:

From 1962 to 1973, the Deseret Test Center, headquartered at Fort Douglas, Utah, conducted a series of operational chemical and biological warfare tests in support of Project 112. The purpose of the tests done under Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD) was to identify U.S. warships' vulnerabilities to attacks with chemical or biological warfare agents and to develop procedures to respond to such attacks while maintaining a war-fighting capability. The purpose of the land-based tests was to learn more about how chemical or biological agents behave under a variety of climatic, environmental and use conditions. To date, DoD Investigators identified 5,842 Service members who were involved in one or more of these tests. The Deseret Test Center planned 134 tests; 50 were conducted and 84 were cancelled.

Q13:

What should a Veteran do if they believe they are affected by one of the Deseret Test Center tests?

A:

Veterans who have health concerns regarding their participation in a Deseret Test Center test are encouraged to contact the VA's Helpline toll free at (800) 749-8387.

Q14:

What was the testing and was the crew vulnerable to the test?

A:

The purpose of the tests done under Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense was to identify U.S. warships' vulnerabilities to attacks with chemical or biological warfare agents and to develop procedures to respond to such attacks while maintaining a war-fighting capability. The purpose of the land-based tests was to learn more about how chemical or biological agents behave under a variety of climatic, environmental and use conditions. To date, DoD Investigators identified 5,842 Service members who were involved in one or more of these tests.The information from these tests was used to enhance protection of our Service members, and to understand the behavior of chemical and biological warfare agents in varying climates and terrain. At no time were there any tests to determine the effect on people.

Q15:

What will the VA do for those who think they are ill from their work with Deseret Test Center?

A:

Veterans Affairs (VA) has offered a medical evaluation to all Deseret Test Center participants who so wish. The VA can best provide details of the benefits and assistance available to veterans. The VA operates a toll free Helpline at (800) 479-8387 for veterans and maintains a Project 112/SHAD webpage.

Q16:

When did DoD begin their investigation?

A:

At the request of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the DoD accepted the mission to provide data related to the SHAD tests in September 2000. A team was assembled to learn which ships and units were involved in the tests, when the tests took place, and what substances were used in testing and decontamination. The investigations was expanded to include all tests done by the Deseret Test Center under Project 112.

Q17:

When did the test series take place?

A:

 The test series began in 1962 and ended in 1973.

Q18:

Where were the tests conducted?

A:

Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD) tests were conducted on the open sea in the North Atlantic, open water locations of the Pacific Ocean and near the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the California coast. Land-based tests took place in Alaska, Hawaii, Maryland, Florida, Utah, Georgia, and in Panama, Canada and the United Kingdom

Q19:

Why did it take so long for the information to be released?

A:

The purpose of the tests done under Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense was to identify U.S. warships' vulnerabilities to attacks with chemical or biological warfare agents and to develop procedures to respond to such attacks while maintaining a war-fighting capability. The purpose of the land-based tests was generally to learn more about how chemical or biological agents behave under a variety of climatic, environmental and use conditions. To reveal details of the effectiveness of our defenses and details of our defensive procedures and equipment could compromise the safety of our Service members. The DoD had no indication that this operational testing had any health effect on the personnel involved.

Q20:

Why did sailors receive nasal swabs or throat gargles during the tests?

A:

Deployment Health Support Directorate (DHSD) investigators questioned the Deseret Test Center personnel they interviewed on the reason for taking gargle samples and nasal swabs from vessel crew members. The practice was an informal, and largely undocumented, supplement to the mechanical samplers positioned throughout the test ships to measure organism penetration and dispersion. It appears that the data gathered may have been used to help validate mechanical samplers in the early tests where Bacillus globigii was the biological simulant being used, allowing the practice to be discontinued once samplers were optimally positioned. One known exception is that during the Autumn Gold test, gargle samples and nasal swabs were taken of crewmembers wearing protective masks to determine the effectiveness of the masks. These sample readings are documented in the Autumn Gold test report, but unfortunately are not linked to the crew members whom provided the samples.

Q21:

Why did this investigation take so long?

A:

The information Veterans Affairs (VA) needed was classified and was not centralized. The Deseret Test Center, the organization that ran the original tests, was closed in 1973. The investigation required a search for 40-year-old documents and records kept by different military services in different locations. It also required declassification of medically relevant information, without releasing military information that remains classified for valid operational security reasons.

Human Subject Research at Fort Detrick

Q1:

How were soliders selected for Opertaion Whitecoat at Fort Detrick?

A:

No. Volunteering for Operation Whitecoat basically resulted in the Service member assignment to Fort Detrick. Assignment to Fort Detrick did not mean that the volunteer automatically participated in human experimentation. There was a distinct process used for each experiment.

Each medical investigator prepared a protocol that was extensively reviewed and modified to comply with the twelve ethical principles of the Nuremberg Code. (The Nuremberg war crimes trials convicted 23 Nazi doctors of murder. In 1946, Andrew Ivey released his list of ten conditions required for "permissible medical experiments" in healthy subjects, which became known as the Nuremberg Code. These twelve conditions are embodied in the Wilson Memorandum described above.) When a review validated the ethical requirement and scientific validity of an experiment, it was forwarded to Army officials for approval.

It was at this point that potential volunteers were briefed as a group on the approved protocol. During this briefing, they became familiar with the purpose of the study and the risks and benefits involved. They also attended an interview with a scientist where they could ask questions about the research. Volunteers were encouraged to discuss the study with family members, clergy and personal physicians. After an obligatory waiting period of 24 hours to four weeks (the length depended on the presumed risks of the study), informed consent documents would be signed.

It must be stressed that Operation Whitecoat soldiers were not required to participate in any study, only to be present for the protocol briefings by principal investigators seeking volunteers. About 20 percent of Project Whitecoat volunteers did not participate in any study during their tenure at Fort Detrick.

Q2:

If I think I was involved in a test what should I do next?

A:

If you need help verifying your possible participation in any of the tests or have information about the testing, please call the Department of Defense's (DoD) contact managers at 1-800-497-6261, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.

Alternatively, you may write to us at:

Force Health Protection and Readiness
ATTN: CB Exposures Manager
7700 Arlington Blvd.
Falls Church, VA 22042

If you'd like to speak with a Veterans Affairs (VA) representative, call the Special Issues Helpline at 1-800-749-8387. Many states offer services and benefits to veterans. To find out more about a particular state, please visit http://www.va.gov/statedva.htm.

Q3:

Was all Whitecoat Testing conducted at Fort Detrick?

A:

No. While most of the testing was conducted at Fort Detrick, limited testing was conducted at the Dugway Proving Ground.

Q4:

Were there any fatalities at Fort Detrick among volunteers?

A:

There were no deaths or serious injuries among any of the human experiment volunteers.

Q5:

What diseases or biological agents were Operation Whitecoat volunteers exposed?

A:

Volunteers were exposed to Q fever, tularemia, staphylococcal enterotoxins and sand fly fever.

Q6:

What safeguards were in place to protect the volunteers at Fort Detrick?

A:

The basic safeguards are contained in the Wilson Memorandum, which was issued by the Secretary of Defense in February 1953. It specified that human research would be subject to the following conditions:

  1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential and the consent shall be in writing.
  2. The experiment should produce results for the good of society that can not be gotten by other means.
  3. The number of volunteers shall be kept to a minimum.
  4. The experiment should be designed and based on animal experimentation.
  5. The experiment should be conducted to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.
  6. No experiment should be conducted where there is a prior reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.
  7. The degree of risk should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.
  8. Proper preparation should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the subject.
  9. The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified personnel.
  10. During the course of the experiment, the subject be allowed to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached a physical or mental state where the continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.
  11. During the course of the experiment, the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage.
  12. Prisoners of war may not be used in any experiments.

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