Plutonium Injections; part 1 of 4

This is a story that I have been wanting to write about for years but just never got around to doing until now.

I got a phone call in early 1993 from a reporter wanting me to do some genealogical research. She mentioned that she was looking for people that had been experimented on and she had some medical data and death dates but no names. She wanted me to look through death records and see if I could anyone matching her data. I had to explain to her that New York State doesn’t let people look through any vital records. Instead, you have to give the details to a clerk and they would look up the record. Here in Monroe County the people that have the vital records are in the Health Department. In other counties in New York State the vital records are with the town clerk. I didn’t think that I could help her at that time seeing as she didn’t have the names of the patients.

The reporter was Eileen Welsome of the Albuquerque Tribune who in 1987 discovered a small footnote on a document that suggested that human plutonium injections had taken place. She was told by the newspaper management not to bother to follow-up on the injections but she continued to research on her own time. She was determined to find out the names of these unfortunate patients. Finally in 1992 when she got her first small set of documents from the Department of Energy, through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the newspaper became interested enough to try to help her in obtaining further documents. Most of the documents had areas blacked out including the patients names but had medical details intact.

A little background information may be helpful. Plutonium is a radioactive element that was discovered in 1941 at the University of California. Soon after, tests on animals found that it was dangerous and could cause death. Human tests would start to take place in 1945 to learn how to detect the amount of plutonium in a person. So a known amount would be injected into a test subject and see how much was excreted in their waste materials.

Ms. Welsome later learned that the first person to be injected was Ebeneezer Cade, an African-American, who was expected to die from auto injuries. He had gone to the hospital near Oak Ridge, Tenn. where atomic research was being done under the Manhattan Project. He was given a large dose of plutonium but still managed to survive his injures and was released from the hospital a few weeks later to the surprise of his doctors.

Other hospitals around the U.S. were recruited to help in the plutonium experiments including Strong Memorial Hospital, here in Rochester, NY. The patients that were to be selected were people with a chronic disease that supposedly had less than ten years to live. Altogether there were 11 patients injected with plutonium in Rochester and 7 elsewhere around the country. The patients in Rochester had case numbers assigned to the patients as HP-1 to HP-11. At the time the patients were injected, the word “plutonium” was so secret that it was just referred to as “the product.” Patients had blood and waste samples collected for a few weeks and then they were released.

Then in the early 1970s there was an interest to try to exhume some of the patients to see how plutonium remained. The doctors were amazed to find that some of the patents were still alive and had them come back to Strong Memorial Hospital for tests.

By November of 1993 Ms. Welsome had received more documents from the Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These documents gave Ms. Welsome the names of some of the doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital through the years. Although decades had passed, most of the doctors reached would not talk about the plutonium injections. One that would talk to her was Dr. Christine Waterhouse who had taken over the task of medical follow-ups a few years after the injections. Doctor Whitehouse gave Ms. Welsome the name John Mousso (patient HP-6) as the only name she could remember during one of the early interviews.

Ms. Welsome called me back again about mid November and I gave her a list of the Mousso families listed in the Rochester phonebook. She called each person on the list until she reached Jerry Mousso who turned out to be John Mousso’s nephew and he said that it sounded like his uncle. He then gave her the phone number of John’s son, Robert, who was not listed in the phonebook.

In documents obtained from the DOE there was a person that was exhumed in 1978. Ms. Welsome starting called cemeteries around Rochester and she found someone at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery that say they remember a burial that was exhumed at that time and returned 4 years later. That was Fred C. Sours (patient HP-9). Years later I would find out that during the exhumation the cemetery was closed and all employees had to leave the cemetery. Before they left the cemetery, they had seen men dressed in radiation suits that performing the exhumation. Ms Welsome called me to find an obit and I also tried to find other obits at that time but was unsuccessful.

In one document obtained from the DOE there was the name “Charlton” that hadn’t been blacked out. Ms. Welsome called Dr. Christine Waterhouse formerly of Strong Memorial and she remembered the name Edith Charlton but her name was later found to be Eda Charlton (patient HP-3).