In the 1950s as the Cold War escalated, there were
fears that Britain as an exposed, vulnerable island could be devastated by a biological
or chemical warfare attack.
Ministry of Defence scientists from Porton
Down in Wiltshire wanted to investigate how easily a huge cloud of deadly germs
could spread across the country.
Between 1953 and 1964 top secret trials
were carried out using a chemical concoction of zinc cadmium sulphide to simulate
how a cloud would disperse biological agents.
The unsuspecting population
was sprayed covertly with the poisonous compound at least 76 times.
whistle blower Mike Kenners's story
spraying took place a number of times over Norwich at night in 1963.
it was not only Norfolk that was turned into an outdoor laboratory at this time.
Inside Out discloses the virtually unknown fact that large areas of Bedfordshire
were sprayed out of the top of a converted lorry.
Cadmium is a minor
element which occurs naturally. It is one of the metallic components in the earths
First discovered in Germany in 1817 as a by-product
of zinc refining.
Used for industrial purposes in batteries,
pigments and plastics.
Cadmium-sulfide pigments were used
from 1850 in painting - the pigment is prominent in the work of Vincent Van Gogh.
A. Edison in the USA and Waldemar Junger in Sweden developed the first nickel-cadmium
batteries in the early 20th Century.
Also used in nuclear
Cadmium is a poisonous heavy metal. If uncontrolled,
it can produce toxic effects on humans. Ingestion of significant amounts of cadmium
can lead to poisoning and damage to the liver, kidneys, and respiratory organs.
by Porton Down scientists at RAF Cardington, the surrounding villages and their
inhabitants were subjected to chemical emissions at least 55 times over a six
Specially modified weather balloons were used to collect the
The Ministry of Defence has consistently said that there was no
significant health hazard as a result of the experiments.
In Clouds of
Secrecy, the Inside Out team investigates the facts and deceit about what happened,
particularly in East Anglia, and concludes that much of the truth is at odds with
the official line.
Cadmium is a poisonous heavy metal.
cadmium sulphide was not tested for toxicity prior to the experiments and this
is now officially admitted to be a 'deficit'.
A report from Porton Down
in 1967, four years after the trials stopped, states that short-term exposure
to cadmium affects the respiratory system in humans.
High doses of cadmium
over long periods of time cause bone and kidney problems and lung cancer.
admissions have never been acknowledged in recent enquiries.
Using information obtain under the Freedom of Information
Act, we reveal from declassified files that cadmium was used because it was cheap.
But the secret files also admit that it was unreliable. Accounts of sampling
were underestimated by a factor of 100 times due to environmental pollution and
the inefficiency of the dispersal of zinc cadmium sulphide.
new light - recently released files on spraying|
compound was considered safe to use because it fluoresces strongly when exposed
to UV light and therefore be detected at sampling devices positioned around the
The Norwich experiments came to light in 2000 after an investigation
into the activities of Porton Down.
This led to two reviews - one by DERA,
the privatised evaluation arm of the MoD and another by an independent body comprising
toxicologists and environmentalists led by a professor from Cambridge.
reports concluded, although not unreservedly, that there was no significant risk
to human health.
Researcher Mike Kenner, who carried out the original FOI
"I find it incredibly difficult to
understand that the so-called jewel in the crown of the British scientific community
which is Porton Down would think that is was okay to spray a toxic material like
cadmium sulphide over the population of Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire.
It beggars belief."
Inside Out has discovered that the independent inquiry did
not study the later Norwich trial reports when making their safety assessment.
More alarmingly they did not take into account any experiments done at
Cardington in 1963 when there was a mass release of cadmium from a lorry.
think if they were aware of the full spectrum of risks, it was probably questionable
at very best."
Some of the National Records were not available
to Professor Lachmann from Cambridge at the time.
The story resurfaced
last year after Wyn Parry, a thoracic surgeon at Norfolk and Norwich University
Hospital, highlighted an upward trend in cases of throat cancer.
taken up by MPs Ian Gibson and Norman Lamb who demanded a public inquiry.
Parry said the industrial use of cadmium was now heavily regulated:
has been known for some years that cadmium is related to some disease."
the germ trials, he said:
"I think if they were aware
of the full spectrum of risks, it was probably questionable at very best."
Yvonne Jarman, from Norfolk, is one of the family cases
which have been investigated.
Her mother, sister and brother have all died
from throat cancer and she says she wants more answers.
if they said it was good for the nation how good could it be for people to have
this poisonous substance blown in the wind over them."
for answers - Yvonne Jarman|
"If people knew what cadmium
is there would certainly have been objections," she said.
of Health-led investigation this year found that while cancer figures in Norwich
are not higher than the national average, they are raised in Norfolk.
prompted a small-cluster inquiry conducted by Imperial College which last month
confirmed that the incidences of throat cancer were raised in Norfolk, but concluded
that the levels were NOT significant.
Despite this finding, MP Ian Gibson
said he'll continue his calls for more answers.
North East Bedfordshire
MP Alistair Burt has also taken up the case as a result of the BBC documentary.
Lachmann, who carried out the independent scientific study for the Ministry of
Defence five years ago, said:
"We came to the conclusion
that no-one is likely to have suffered any harm from the amounts of zinc cadmium
sulphide they might have encountered in the worst scenario during that period."
whistle blower Mike Kenners's story
- Chemical Warfare
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