Operation Sea-Spray

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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]

Contents

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]

Illnesses

On October 11, 1950, eleven residents checked into Stanford Hospital in San Francisco with very rare, serious urinary tract infections. Although ten recovered, Edward J. Nevin, who had had recent prostate surgery, died three weeks later from a heart valve infection. The urinary tract outbreak was so unusual that the Stanford doctors wrote it up for a medical journal. [7] [3] 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]

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. [3]

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. [12] 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]

Lawsuit

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 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 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] [13] [14] [15]

Similar biological warfare tests

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

See also

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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.

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References

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  2. Kreston, Rebecca (28 June 2015). "Blood & Fog: The Military's Germ Warfare Tests in San Francisco" . Discover . ISSN   0274-7529. Archived from the original on 22 May 2020. Retrieved 3 September 2022.
  3. 1 2 3 Tansey, Bernadette (31 October 2004). "Serratia has dark history in region / Army test in 1950 may have changed microbial ecology". SFGATE . Archived from the original on 15 July 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2022.
  4. Bentley, Michelle. "The US has a history of testing biological weapons on the public – were infected ticks used too?". The Conversation. Retrieved 11 June 2021.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Carlton, Jim (22 October 2001). "Of Microbes and Mock Attacks: Years Ago, The Military Sprayed Germs on U.S. Cities". The Wall Street Journal . eISSN   1042-9840. ISSN   0099-9660. OCLC   781541372. Archived from the original on 12 November 2021. Retrieved 3 September 2022.
  6. Cole 1988, pp. 78–81.
  7. 1 2 Crockett, Zachary (30 October 2014). "How the U.S. Government Tested Biological Warfare on America". Priceonomics. Archived from the original on 7 August 2022. Retrieved 4 September 2022.
  8. Loria, Kevin (15 July 2015). "'One of the largest human experiments in history' was conducted on unsuspecting residents of San Francisco". Business Insider . OCLC   1076392313. Archived from the original on 14 March 2022. Retrieved 4 September 2022.
  9. Cole 1988, p. 81.
  10. Regis, Ed (April 1999). 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. 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. U.S. Govt. Print. Off. March 8, 1977.
  13. 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."
  14. Judge's Decision Expected Soon in California Germ Warfre ( sic ) Case, New York Times , (April 15, 1981)
  15. 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. S2CID   201060892.

Further reading