New details about the use of troops during nuclear weapons tests in Nevada in the 1950s are expected to emerge from hearings this week before the House health and environment subcommittee.
Sparked by discovery that at least six GIs of 2,235 who participated in a 1957 test developed leukemia - a blood cancer associated with radiation - the congressional inquiry is expected to disclose, among other findings, sloppy procedures in the handling of film badges, the primary means used to measure individual radiation exposure.
At some tests, film badges were not given every soldier, according to several participants. A Pentagon report from the 1957 nuclear test series noted that many soldiers either lost or misplaced their badges.
Allan M. Harris, a California insurance man, was a Marine who observed a 1952 shot and thereafter was marched into the vicinity of ground zero. Harris said in a recent interview that no badges were given his unit. Seven years later, Harris said, he developed skin cancer for which he still receives treatment.
A former top Atomic Energy Commission officials in the health field, Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, said that at early 1950s tests where he was present, only a few soldiers in each unit were given badges, and radiation levels for all were determined by averaging.
The military had a volunteer program where individuals, both in and out of the services, were placed in trenches just over one mile from large shots so blast, thermal and radiation effects would be measured on human beings. According to one source, after the 42-kiloton blast of 1953 one volunteer lay in his trench with blood over his face.
Altogether, the Army has put together a list of 30 GI volunteers from tests in 1953 and 1955, but no apparent effort has been made recently to find these men.
Troops often were marched into the immediate vicinity of ground zero shrtly after major shots.
After a 74-kiloton device called Hood was set off in Nevada in July 1957, Marines were marched to within 400 yards of ground zero, according to a recently declassified report.
One Marine officer at that test, Charles Broudy, who also witnesses two other nuclear tests in 1957, was diagnosed in 1977 as having cancer. He died last October.
According to at least two participants in a 1957 test called Smoky, a paratroop company was marched within 300 yards of ground zero within two hours of the shot. At least one of those men, Paul C. Cooper, has since developed leukemia.
Army researchers have been able to uncover only one test other than Smoky where film badge radiation levels recorded for each military participant are still available. In all, however, the Army has been able to identify almost 80,000 GIs who were at the 1950 tests.
The Department of Energy, which controls the records of the AEC, said through a spokesman recently that to compile a complete list of some 200,000 civilian and military observer and test participants could require six years.
Lack of usable lists will hinder efforts to explore whether low levels of radiation absorbed at the tests can be related many years later to an increased risk of leukemia or other forms of cancer.
On Tuesday the first witnesses related to Smoky will appear before the House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Paul Rogers (D-Fla.) Ranking Republican on the subcommittee is Rep. Tim Lee Carter (Ky.), a physician whose constituent, Donald Coe, is a Smoky veteran now suffering from leukemia.
He and several others who were at Smoky will testify Wednesday.
One witness will be Russell Jack Dann, who was at Smoky and Galileo, another shot two days later. Dann said recently his film badge was collected after the first test and he had none at the second.
Dann, then a paratrooper, said the blast from the 45 kiloton Smoky shot "knocked me 15 to 20 feet" from where he was kneeling some two miles from ground zero. It tore off his steel helmet, leving only the plastic liner which was secured by a chinstrap.
Dann said recently that, within a year of the tests, "I lost my teeth, my hair fell out in blotches . . . my joints ached and I had a low sperm count." Several years later, Dann developed a dizziness problem and now is a paraplegic as the result of an accident.
Rogers and Carter want to use the hearings to make certain there is no delay in finding out what happened to all the Smoky participants.
A bureaucratic battle has been under way within the executive branch for control over the study.
Up to now the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta has spearheaded the effort, while the Army and Department of Energy gave hestitant support.
Last month, an inter-agency meeting held at the Pentagon decided a long-term study of Smoky should be handled by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciense, rather than by CDC.
The congressmen objected that such an effort would be financed and directed by Pentagon and Energy officials having an interest in the outcome.
In a letter to President Carter, Rogers and Carter pressed for leaving the study with CDC, which is part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.