Back in 1958, Ray Phillips' family lived in Knox, Ind., beneath the flight path of an airplane that dropped dangerous cadmium sulfide as part of a germ warfare experiment designed by Dugway Proving Ground.
A few years ago, Phillips - who now lives in Springfield, Ore. - developed lung disease that he says shows all the classic symptoms of cadmium poisoning. He blamed it on the cadmium in photocopying machines he serviced.But then a sister who had moved to New Mexico - and never worked with photocopiers - developed the same sort of lung disease. Then another sister in Michigan developed it, too.
Then Phillips heard this week about a Deseret News story that revealed the Army's spreading of cadmium sulfide clouds throughout the East - and called to verify that his old family home had been roughly in the flight path of one test. "I wonder if it had something to do with my illness," he said.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, says people such as Phillips deserve to know exactly how much danger the Army placed them in without their permission or knowledge.
So he is launching congressional efforts to obtain data the Army has - but has refused to release to the Deseret News - about exactly how much cadmium sulfide the Army dropped and from what altitude, and how much was found at ground monitoring stations throughout the East.
The Army - which insists the tests were safe but no longer uses cadmium sulfide because of danger it could pose - says release of such information would endanger national security. The Deseret News has appealed to the secretary of the Army.
Owens said, "One of the real challenges I've faced in the three months I've been on the Intelligence Committee is figuring out when documents have been classified to protect security and when they have been classified to protect incompetence."
He added, "Information about what the Army did 34 years ago in these tests cannot credibly now be claimed as national security material."
So Owens is drafting a letter to the Army seeking release of the material, which he hopes other members of the Utah delegation and members of Congress from areas involved in testing will sign.
He said he also will ask the Intelligence Committee staff to help with the process of having the information declassified.
Owens - who for years led efforts with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to compensate downwind cancer victims of atomic bomb testing - said the dumping of cadmium sulfide brings back memories of downwinders and other Army experiments such as a nerve gas accident that killed 5,000 sheep in Skull Valley in 1969.
"It's like deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say," Owens said.
Details revealed earlier this week by the Deseret News about the 1957-58 Army tests included that the chemical was dropped over most of the states east of the Rockies - and that similar-but-smaller tests followed through the '60s and maybe into the '70s in places including public land in Utah.
Although scientific studies warned since the early 1930s that cadmium and its compounds cause disease of the kidney, liver and lung, cancer and maybe death, the Army said it did not realize it was dangerous until the early 1970s. Other scientists called that reckless.
The experiments were designed to see if strong winds from the Arctic could spread particles over vast areas - for example, to spread spores that could destroy an enemy's entire wheat crop.
The Army used cadmium sulfide because it is easy to trace because it fluoresces under ultraviolet light. Filters from monitoring stations nationwide were sent to Dugway, where particles were counted under microscopes to determine how far clouds traveled - and they covered the continent.
Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the project - called "Operation LAC," with LAC standing for Large Area Coverage - was often planned with meticulous detail. But not one word about concern for safety was mentioned in documents released.
That has people such as Phillips wondering if it may have cost him and his family their health.