MARSHALL ISLANDS CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL TESTS REVEALED

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By Giff Johnson For Variety

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (June 10, 2002 – Marianas Variety)---Did Marshall Islanders get sick and die as a result of a secret American nerve gas and chemical agent experiment at Enewetak Atoll in the 1960s?

News of 12 of a reported 113 secret experiments — including one at the former nuclear test site of Enewetak — was revealed late last month in the U.S. media.

Marshall Islands officials said they planned to seek details this week from U.S. representatives meeting in Honolulu about biological and chemical weapons testing done at Enewetak and possibly other islands that a Marshall Islands official says may have been responsible for an influenza outbreak in 1968 at Rongelap Atoll that claimed two lives.

The U.S. Defense Department sprayed nerve, chemical and biological gas on ships and sailors in the 1960s, including one test in 1968 in the Enewetak area that involved a plane dumping "PG" — staphylococcal enterotoxin B — over an area that covered 926 square miles. "PG" is described as a toxin that causes flu-like symptoms that can be fatal to the very young, the elderly and people weakened by long-term illnesses.

These latest revelations confirm the point made by a Marshall Islands petition to the U.S. Congress for additional nuclear test compensation that this central Pacific nation still does not have all the information about U.S. tests conducted here, according to an attorney for one of the nuclear test-affected atolls.

The U.S. tested 67 nuclear weapons at Bikini and Enewetak atolls from 1946 to 1958.

A Brookhaven National Laboratory survey on nuclear test-exposed Rongelap Islanders in 1968 reported that "a rather serious outbreak of Hong Kong influenza occurred among the Rongelap people in 1968 and may have been responsible for the deaths of a 58-year-old exposed woman and of an unexposed boy who died of meningitis."

Marshall Islands Washington Embassy staff Holly Barker said that expert testimony in a Rongelap damage claim before the U.S.-funded Nuclear Claims Tribunal, although making no reference to the Enewetak test in 1968, described a nationwide outbreak of flu in 1968, with food-poisoning-like symptoms that had an extremely rapid onset. Anthropologist Nancy Pollock described attending a baseball game at the time where everyone was hit with cramps, and many were vomiting, Barker said.

"There is a link between the (Enewetak) tests and a flu outbreak on Rongelap," Barker said.

The Defense Department tests were conducted to test how quickly the chemical and biological agents could be detected, how rapidly they dispersed and, how effectively the Navy’s protective gear and decontamination efforts worked.

The U.S. government has released information on 12 actual tests, but there were reportedly more than 100 tests planned and possibly carried out. The testing program was called Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense.

"The people and the government of the Marshall Islands to this day still do not know all the details of what happened in the Marshalls during the Cold War," Bikini attorney Jonathan Weisgall said of the revelations about these secret experiments.

"This isn’t directly related to the nuclear testing program, but it clearly demonstrates the premise of the changed circumstances (nuclear test compensation) petition (to the U.S. Congress), which is that we still don’t know all the facts about what the U.S. government did in the Marshall Islands during the Cold War."

Barker said the Marshall Islands delegation to an annual meeting this week in Honolulu with U.S. Department of Energy officials would be discussing this issue, and how to address it with the U.S.

For additional reports from the Marianas Variety, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/ Marianas Variety.

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