Operation Sea-Spray

Last updated

Operation Sea-Spray was a 1950 U.S. Navy secret biological warfare experiment in which Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii bacteria were sprayed over the San Francisco Bay Area in California, in order to determine how vulnerable a city like San Francisco may be to a bioweapon attack. [1] [2] [3] [4]


Military test

Starting on September 20, 1950 and continuing until September 27, the U.S. Navy released the two types of bacteria from a ship off the shore of San Francisco, believing them to be harmless to humans. Based on results from monitoring equipment at 43 locations around the city, the Army determined that San Francisco had received enough of a dose for nearly all of the city's 800,000 residents to inhale at least 5,000 of the particles. [5] [6] [7] [8]


On October 11, 1950, eleven residents checked into Stanford Hospital for very rare, serious urinary tract infections. Although ten residents recovered, one patient, Edward J. Nevin, died three weeks later. None of the other hospitals in the city reported similar spikes in cases, and all 11 victims had urinary-tract infections following medical procedures, suggesting that the source of their infections lay inside the hospital. [5] Cases of pneumonia in San Francisco also increased after Serratia marcescens was released, though a causal relation has not been conclusively established. [9] [10] The bacterium was also combined with phenol and an anthrax simulant and sprayed across south Dorset by US and UK military scientists as part of the DICE trials that ran from 1971 to 1975. [5] [11]

The urinary tract outbreak was so unusual that the Stanford doctors wrote it up for a medical journal. [7]

There was no evidence that the Army had alerted health authorities before it blanketed the region with bacteria. Doctors later wondered whether the experiment might be responsible for heart valve infections around the same time as well as serious infections seen among intravenous drug users in the 1960s and 1970s. [12]

Senate subcommittee hearings

In 1977, the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research held a series of hearings at which the U.S. Army disclosed the existence of the tests. [13] Army officials noted the pneumonia outbreak in their testimony but said any link to their experiments was totally coincidental. The Army pointed out that no other hospitals reported similar outbreaks and all 11 victims had urinary-tract infections following medical procedures, suggesting that the source of their infections lay inside the hospital. [5]


In 1981, Nevin's surviving family members filed suit against the federal government, alleging negligence and responsibility for the death of Edward J. Nevin, as well as financial and emotional harm caused to Mr. Nevin's wife from the medical costs.

The lower court ruled against them primarily because the bacteria used in the test was unproven to be responsible for Mr. Nevin's death. The Nevin family appealed the suit all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to overturn lower court judgments. [5] [14] [15] [16]

Similar biological warfare tests

In the Senate subcommittee hearings in 1977, the Army revealed:

See also

Related Research Articles

Biological warfare Use of strategically designed biological weapons

Biological warfare, also known as germ warfare, is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, insects, and fungi with the intent to kill, harm or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons are living organisms or replicating entities. Entomological (insect) warfare is a subtype of biological warfare.

Anthrax Infection caused by Bacillus anthracis bacteria

Anthrax is an infection caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It can occur in four forms: skin, lungs, intestinal and injection. Symptom onset occurs between one day and more than two months after the infection is contracted. The skin form presents with a small blister with surrounding swelling that often turns into a painless ulcer with a black center. The inhalation form presents with fever, chest pain and shortness of breath. The intestinal form presents with diarrhea, which may contain blood, abdominal pains, nausea and vomiting. The injection form presents with fever and an abscess at the site of drug injection.

<i>Serratia</i> Genus of bacteria

Serratia is a genus of Gram-negative, facultatively anaerobic, rod-shaped bacteria of the family Yersiniaceae. According to the List of Prokaryotic names with Standing Nomenclature (LPSN), there are currently 19 species of Serratia that are credibly published with accurate names as of 2020: S. aquatilis, S. entomophila, S. ficaria, S. fonticola, S. grimesii, S. liquefaciens, S. marcescens, S. microhaemolytica, S. myotis, S. nematodiphila, S. odoriferae, S. oryzae, S. plymuthica, S. proteamaculans, S. quinivorans corrig, S. rubidaea, S. symbiotica, S. ureilytica, S. vespertilionis. They are typically 1–5 μm in length, do not produce spores, and can be found in water, soil, plants, and animals. Some members of this genus produce a characteristic red pigment, prodigiosin, and can be distinguished from other members of the order Enterobacterales by their unique production of three enzymes: DNase (nucA), lipase, and gelatinase (serralysin). Serratia was thought to be a harmless environmental bacteria until it was discovered that the most common species in the genus, S. marcescens, is an opportunistic pathogen of many animals, including humans. In humans, S. marcescens is mostly associated with nosocomial, or hospital-acquired, infections, but can also cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and endocarditis. S. marcescens is frequently found in showers, toilet bowls, and around wetted tiles as a pinkish to red biofilm but only causes disease in immunocompromised individuals. Aside from S marcescens, some rare strains of the Serratia species S. plymuthica, S. liquefaciens, S. rubidaea, and S. odoriferae have been shown to cause infection such as osteomyelitis and endocarditis.

<i>Serratia marcescens</i> Species of bacterium

Serratia marcescens is a species of rod-shaped, Gram-negative bacteria in the family Yersiniaceae. It is a facultative anaerobe and an opportunistic pathogen. It was discovered in 1819 by Bartolomeo Bizio in Padua, Italy. S. marcescens is commonly involved in hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), particularly catheter-associated bacteremia, urinary tract infections, and wound infections, and is responsible for 1.4% of HAI cases in the United States. It is commonly found in the respiratory and urinary tracts of hospitalized adults and in the gastrointestinal systems of children.

United States and weapons of mass destruction Sum total of the U.S nuclear arsenal

The United States is known to have possessed three types of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. The U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in combat, when it detonated two atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. It had secretly developed the earliest form of the atomic weapon during the 1940s under the title "Manhattan Project". The United States pioneered the development of both the nuclear fission and hydrogen bombs. It was the world's first and only nuclear power for four years (1945–1949), until the Soviet Union managed to produce its own nuclear weapon. The United States has the second-largest number of nuclear weapons in the world, after the Russian Federation.

Biological agent Pathogen that can be weaponized

A biological agent is a bacterium, virus, protozoan, parasite, fungus, chemical, or toxin that can be used purposefully as a weapon in bioterrorism or biological warfare (BW). In addition to these living or replicating pathogens, toxins and biotoxins are also included among the bio-agents. More than 1,200 different kinds of potentially weaponizable bio-agents have been described and studied to date.

The United States biological weapons program began in 1943 and was discontinued in 1969.

Project 112 1962–1973 US biological and chemical weapon test project

Project 112 was a biological and chemical weapon experimentation project conducted by the United States Department of Defense from 1962 to 1973.

Operation LAC Chemical Corps operation which dispersed zinc cadmium sulfide particles over the U.S.

Operation LAC was a United States Army Chemical Corps operation which dispersed microscopic zinc cadmium sulfide (ZnCdS) particles over much of the United States and Canada in order to test dispersal patterns and the geographic range of chemical or biological weapons.

The M143 bomblet was a biological cluster bomb sub-munition developed by the United States during the 1960s. The spherical bomblet was the biological version of the Sarin-filled M139 chemical bomblet.

The Deseret Test Center was a U.S. Army operated command in charge for testing chemical and biological weapons during the 1960s. The Deseret was headquartered at Fort Douglas, Utah, a former U.S. Army base.

Saddam Hussein (1937–2006) initiated an extensive biological weapons (BW) program in Iraq in the early 1980s, despite having signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) of 1972. Details of the BW program—along with a chemical weapons program—surfaced only in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91) following investigations conducted by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) which had been charged with the post-war disarmament of Saddam's Iraq. By the end of the war, program scientists had investigated the BW potential of five bacterial strains, one fungal strain, five types of virus, and four toxins. Of these, three—anthrax, botulinum and aflatoxin—had proceeded to weaponization for deployment. Because of the UN disarmament program that followed the war, more is known today about the once-secret bioweapons program in Iraq than that of any other nation.

The E48 particulate bomb was a U.S. biological sub-munition designed during the 1950s for use with the E96 cluster bomb.

Operation Polka Dot was a U.S. Army test of a biological cluster bomb during the early 1950s.

Numerous experiments which were performed on human test subjects in the United States are considered unethical, because they were illegally performed or they were performed without the knowledge, consent, or informed consent of the test subjects. Such tests were performed throughout American history, but most of them were performed during the 20th century. The experiments included the exposure of humans to many chemical and biological weapons, human radiation experiments, injections of toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation and torture experiments, tests which involved mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of other experiments. Many of these tests were performed on children, the sick, and mentally disabled individuals, often under the guise of "medical treatment". In many of the studies, a large portion of the subjects were poor, racial minorities, or prisoners.

Operation Night Train was part of a series of chemical and biological warfare tests overseen by the Deseret Test Center as part of Project 112. The test was conducted near Fort Greely, Alaska from November 1963 to January 1964. The primary purpose of Night Train was to study the penetration of an arctic inversion by a biological aerosol cloud. I The test's first purpose was to study the downwind travel and diffusion of this cloud when disseminated into different arctic meteorological regimes. All documents about Night Train were considered classified by the Russian military until 2002, when the Department of Defense (DOD) released medically relevant information of all the chemical and biological warfare agent tests conducted under Project 112.

The Dorset Biological Warfare Experiments were a series of experiments conducted between 1953 and 1975 to determine the extent to which a single ship or aircraft could dispense biological warfare agents over the United Kingdom. The tests between 1971–1975 were known as the DICE trials. The tests were conducted by scientists from Porton Down, initially using Zinc cadmium sulfide (ZnCds) as a simulated agent. Early results clearly showed that one aircraft flying along the coast while spraying its agent could contaminate a target over 100 miles away, over an area of 10,000 square miles. This method of Biological warfare attack and the test program to study it was known as the Large Area Coverage (LAC) concept.

Operation PX was the codename for a planned Japanese military attack on civilians in the United States, using biological weapons during World War II. Imperial Japanese Navy submarines were to launch seaplanes that would deliver weaponized bubonic plague, developed by Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army, to the US West Coast. The planned operation was abandoned due to the strong opposition of General Yoshijirō Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff. The abandonment also followed the Japanese surrender following the atomic bombings and the Soviet declaration of war.

Biological warfare (BW)—also known as bacteriological warfare, or germ warfare—has had a presence in popular culture for over 100 years. Public interest in it became intense during the Cold War, especially the 1960s and '70s, and continues unabated. This article comprises a list of popular culture works referencing BW or bioterrorism, but not those pertaining to natural, or unintentional, epidemics.


Cefiderocol, sold under the brand name Fetroja among others, is an antibiotic used to treat complicated urinary tract infections when no other options are available. It is indicated for the treatment of multi-drug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria including Pseudomonas aeruginosa. It is given by injection into a vein.


  1. Thompson, Helen. "In 1950, the U.S. Released a Bioweapon in San Francisco". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  2. "Blood & Fog: The Military's Germ Warfare Tests in San Francisco". Discover Magazine. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  3. Tansey, Bernadette (2004-10-31). "Serratia has dark history in region / Army test in 1950 may have changed microbial ecology". SFGATE. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  4. Bentley, Michelle. "The US has a history of testing biological weapons on the public – were infected ticks used too?". The Conversation. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jim Carlton,Of Microbes and Mock Attacks: Years Ago, The Military Sprayed Germs on U.S. Cities, The Wall Street Journal , (October 22, 2001).
  6. Leonard A. Cole, Clouds of Secrecy: The Army's Germ Warfare Tests Over Populated Areas - Special Report No. 142: "Biological Warfare Trials at San Francisco, California, 20–27 September 1950".
  7. 1 2 "How the U.S. Government Tested Biological Warfare on America". Priceonomics. October 30, 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2016.
  8. Loria, Kevin. "'One of the largest human experiments in history' was conducted on unsuspecting residents of San Francisco". Business Insider. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  9. Cole, Leonard A. (1988). Clouds of Secrecy: The Army's Germ-Warfare Tests Over Populated Areas. (Foreword by Alan Cranston.) . Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN   0-8476-7579-3.
  10. Regis, Ed. The Biology of Doom : America's Secret Germ Warfare Project. Diane Publishing Company. ISBN   0-7567-5686-3.
  11. Barnett, Antony (2002-04-21). "Millions were in germ war tests". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
  12. Bernadette Tansey, Serratia has dark history in region / Army test in 1950 may have changed microbial ecology, San Francisco Chronicle, (October 31, 2004).
  13. "Biological testing involving human subjects by the Department of Defense, 1977: hearings before the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources, United States Senate, Ninety-fifth Congress, first session". March 8, 1977.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. Secret Testing in the United States, The American Experience "In the event, the courts ruled against them, the main reason being that the plaintiffs could not prove that the bacteria used in the test were the same as those that killed Mr. Nevin."
  15. Judge's Decision Expected Soon in California Germ Warfre ( sic ) Case, New York Times , (April 15, 1981)
  16. LaFreniere, David (2019-08-01). "Forgiveness or Permission: How May the United States Government Conduct Experiments on the Public or in Public?". Journal of Biosecurity, Biosafety, and Biodefense Law. 10 (1). doi:10.1515/jbbbl-2019-0001. ISSN   2154-3186.