Controversy has developed over who should run a government study of whether a 1957 nuclear weapons test caused a significant number of leukemia cases among 3,100 soldiers and civilian participants.
Two key members of Congress, Rep. Paul Rogers (D-Fla.) and Rep. Tim Lee Carter (R-Ky.), chairman and ranking GOP member respectively of the House Health and Environment Subcommittee, have written President Carter that they are "deeply concerned" that the planned inquiry "may be transferred from the Center for Disease Control."
At a Dec. 1 Pentagon meeting it was decided that the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences would undertake the study directed and funded by the Departments of Defense and Energy.
The purpose of the study was to resolve whether "the incidence of disease, particulary liukemia of cancer, increased among men exposed to atomic nuclear radiation," according to Dr. William H. Foege, assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC.
The Dec. 1 group also decided that along with the 1957 test, code-named Smokey, the study should include a survey of effects from other tests.
The Atlanta-based CDC's Dr. Glyn G. Caldwell, deputy chief of the cancer branch, has spearheaded the inquiry up to now.
He confirmed through investigation the first two leukemia cases and aided the discovery of four more among Smokey participants.
According to Caldwell, the finding of six leukemia cases among the 3,100 Smokey participants waw "on the borderline" of proving a significant relationship between radiation received at the test and the illness.
Only 500 individual Smokey participants have been thoroughly examined.
Leukemia, a cancer of the blood that has been closely related to radiation exposure, generally occurs in about one of 1,000 persons.
The two congressman pointed out in their letter that the CDC has no "vested interest in the outcome of the study" while the Pentagon. Energy Department and Veterans Administration are involved "in continuing litigation arising from atomic tests."
The three agencies, Rogers and Carter went on, have "potential financial liability and obvious policy interests" in the outcome of the study.
The views of the two legislators will carry additional weight within the administration since they are planning to hold public hearings on Smokey before their subcommittee within the next few week.
The Smokey test took place near dawn on Aug. 31, 1957, at Yucca Flat in the Nevada nuclear test site. A 44 kilotom device was detonatio, on a 700 foot tower. Within three hours after the explosion, some 1,000 GLs maneuvered in the vicinity of ground zero.
One purpose of having troops exercise after the detonation, according to Army press releases at the time, was to publicize the role of the foot soldier in thevbge of atomic warfare.