A Defense Department official told Congress yesterday that the Pentagon will undertake a "crash program" to collect records of Gls who were exposed to nuclear weapons test in the 1950s.
Peter H. Haas, deputy director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, announced the move to a House subcommittee on health and the environment toward the close of a day-long hearing on possible radiation-induced illnesses of troops who participated in the tests.
Throughout the hearing committee members criticized the Defense Department for what they described as haphazard efforts to monitor the medical efforts of the nuclear tests.
Specifically, the Pentagon and other agencies were taken to task for not cooperating with a Center for Disease Control study on the possibility that the troops were exposed to increased risk of contracting leukemia and other forms of cancer as a result of the 1957 nuclear test, nicknamed Smoky.
Subcommittee Chairman Paul G. Rogers (D-Fla.) said it was "unbelievable" that the Defense Department failed to give "high priority" to the location of soldiers who took part in the tests.
The subcommittee was informed yesterday that "a statistically significant" number of leukemia cases - the number now reaches eight - has been found among 2,235 soldiers who took part in maneuvers after Smoky, a 45-kiloton tests hot detonated in Nevada on Aug. 31, 1957.
Dr. Glyn G. Caldwell of CBC cautioned the subcommittee, however, that more information is needed before any cause-effect conclusions could be reached on the relationship between test exposures and later cancers.
His boss, CDC Director Dr. William H. Foege, said his personal view was "When you have eight cases you have to go on the assumption that it is out of the normal range."
The normal probability for occurence of leukemia from a group of 2,235 young men would be two, Foege said. In the course of his e testimony Foege read a letter to Rogers from Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr., who said CDC's Smoky study would "be expedited to the maximum extent possible."
Caldwell told the subcommittee that he found 20 additional cancers in reviewing the records of 550 Smoky participants - a number he said was still below what could be expected statistically from the entire Smoky group.
Of 1,300 individuals, who participated in other military nuclear tests, said the CDC official, 52, said they had leukemia and another 211 had some form of cancer.
Earlier, an Army witness, Maj. Alan Skerker, had told Rogers that for the past year he had been the only Army officer in the Pentagon trying to locate information on soldiers in the Smoky nuclear test, "and only for about 25 percent of my time."
Skerker also said he had found the names of three soldiers who had higher than allowable doses at Smoky but that he had not looked for them.
In his prepared statement, Skerker described several other tests which, he said, should have a "follow-up program."
Once he noted was a March, 1953, shot called Nancy, a 24-kiloton device detonated from a 300-foot tower.
"Film badges were not issued to each man," Skerker noted, though there was "heavy fallout in the maneuver area."
Skerker noted that the radiation safety monitors went into the contaminated area without giving readings to their commanders.
When the radiation safety officers directed the troops to be withdrawn, some 7-0 yards from ground zero, "the unit commanders experienced difficulty in withdrawing their troops."
Skerker also told of finding that a Tennesse Air National Guard group had flown a photo mission over the Smoky site after detonation. He added that he could not locate any record of the men or who ordered them to perform that mission.
The Tennessee unit had come to his attention, Skerker told the subcommittee, through Caldwell.
He added that Caldwell told him one of 10 men in the Tennessee group had turned up with leukemia.
The subcommittee's initial witnesses yesterday were veterans of the Smoky blast.
Russell Jack Dann of Albert lee, Minn., testified from a wheelchair, describing how he was knocked over by Smoky from his position on a hill "3,000 yards from the tower."
Dann said that after the test, "I lost my hair in blotches, then it grew back gray and turned to my natural color. My teeth began falling out and I lost hearing in my left ear." Dann also said he had been told by his doctors that he has a low sperm count, a situation associated with radiation exposure.