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By William Robbins, special for The New York Times

(Video) The Horrific Experiments Carried Out by the US Government


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July 17, 1983


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This is a digitized version of an article from The Times print archive before it began publication online in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times has not changed, edited, or updated them.

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Somewhere, almost certainly in the United States, there are about 70 men who could help researchers determine the risks of human exposure to the poison called dioxin.

The 70, whose identities were unsuccessfully sought by Environmental Protection Agency investigators, are the only people known to have been intentionally exposed to externally measured doses of dioxin. All were the subject of tests commissioned by the Dow Chemical Company and performed on the skin of volunteer inmates at Holmesburg Prison in Northeast Philadelphia in the 1960s.

Dioxin, a chemical byproduct found in some herbicides, has been shown to be fatal in small doses to laboratory animals. But there's no evidence that exposure harms people beyond causing a skin condition known as chloracne.

However, more serious effects are suspected, including cancer and liver and kidney damage. Many veterans, among the 20,000 who filed a joint lawsuit against various chemical companies, linked a variety of illnesses, including birth defects in their children and malignant tumors, to exposure to dioxin in Agent Orange, an herbicide used in Vietnam to defoliate. Chemical companies deny that the diseases were caused by dioxins. severe cases of chloracne

Some of the inmates in the Philadelphia Experiment developed severe cases of chloracne, pimples. Some of the inmates developed lesions and blisters that lasted four to seven months if left untreated.

No records of the identities of the prisoners appear to have been kept and no follow-up studies were carried out after the trial period. Some experts suspect that complications may develop many years after exposure to dioxins.

The tests were performed for Dow by Dr. Albert M. Kligman, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Ten of the subjects were treated with doses well above Dow's established guidelines. The company wanted to determine the "threshold level," or the minimum amount at which chloracne could be expected to develop.

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In a report earlier this year about the Environmental Protection Agency's inability to identify the men in the experiment, Frank L. Davido, an EPA pesticide investigator, wrote: "The agency believed that Dr. Kligman could have provided additional information on the risks associated with the use of 2,4,5-T and Silvex, since the precise dermal doses of TCDD were clearly known in the studies.”

TCDD, or 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, applied to prisoners' skin, is the most potent of some 75 dioxin compounds. It is an impurity produced during the manufacturing of the herbicides 2,4,5-T, Silvex (2,4,5-TP) and Agent Orange.

Dr. Kligman declined to be interviewed or discuss his experiments in detail. But in a brief phone call, he said: "All these people could have leukemia right now, probability in 20 billion. And I could get hit by an asteroid if I go outside, but I don't think so."

He said he gave Dow all of his test records. "I think that included the names," she said. A Dow spokesman, Robert Charlton, said the company never obtained the names. Health officials for the cities of Philadelphia and Holmesburg, as well as Dow and Dr. Kligman told the Environmental Agency that they have no records that could help identify the men. Essays published in 1980

Dr Kligman's tests for Dow have been approved by the E.P.A. in hearings the agency held in 1980 on whether two herbicides, Silvex and 2,4,5-T, which are restricted to some agricultural uses, should be banned outright.

The hearing records provide extensive documentation of the tests and how they were administered, but offer no clues to the identities of the subjects beyond showing that the majority were black and between the ages of 21 and 49. They were paid to participate in the experiments.

Many cases of chloracne have occurred in chemical plant workers, sometimes as a result of industrial accidents. Thousands were exposed to dioxin after a factory accident in a town in Italy in 1976. However, in none of these cases were the exact exposure levels known.

Also, according to documents filed at the 1980 hearing, an earlier experiment by another Philadelphia doctor tested 2.5 to 10 percent solutions of Silvex, which tends to contain a dioxin contaminant, on the skin of 51 volunteers, who also believes they were prisoners. 5 percent, according to a Dow summary of a report by Dr. Joseph V. Klauder, a dermatologist then also affiliated with the university, described "primary skin irritations." No record or name found

Dr. Klauder died about 10 years ago. Neither his test records nor the names of his subjects are available. An outbreak of chloracne at a Dow facility prompted a company official to order Kligman's experiment. In a letter to Dr. Kligman in July 1965, Officer Verald K. Rowe said that he was sending TCDD for use in testing. He warned that the material was "highly toxic" and that an oral dose of half a microgram to one microgram was "always fatal" in experimental animals with a "typical clinical picture of severe liver and kidney damage." “A microgram is one millionth of a gram.

"The serious consequences that can result from testing these types of compounds require that we approach the matter extremely conservatively," Rowe said. reported negative results

On May 11, 1966, 10 months after apparently receiving the Dow material, Dr. Kligman from the company "incredibly negative results." He had climbed six groups of 10 men, although some dropped out during the testing period. Doses did not exceed 16 micrograms and the men underwent liver and kidney tests.

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"No individual developed symptoms that could be related to treatment," he said in a subsequent report. The Lord. Rowe authorized further experiments, and Dr. Kligman performed a second series of tests. "In January 1968," Mr. Rowe said at the 1980 pesticide use hearing, "I was surprised to receive a letter from Dr. Kligman reporting new results."

Dr. Kligman's message was that with a "new panel of 10 subjects" he had increased the total use to around 7,500 micrograms. The first test, he wrote, "encouraged me to be more vigorous."

"Eight out of 10 subjects had acne lesions, which usually started after three to four weeks," he reported after the second round of testing. “In three cases, the lesions evolved into inflammatory pustules and papules. These lesions lasted from four to seven months as no effort was made to speed healing with active treatment."

Subjects underwent kidney and liver tests for six weeks after the experiment and "in no case was there any clinical or laboratory evidence of toxicity," Dr. Kligman wrote.

dr Before E.P.A. did not testify. hearings, but Mr. Rowe does. No long-term follow-up

"Did you or Dow consider whether humans exposed to TCDD developed cancer in the years after the study was done?" asked Andrew Gordon, a lawyer for the agency.

"We don't follow that," Rowe said. He was also asked if he was Dr. Kligman's use of 7,500 micrograms would be described as the conservative approach requested by Mr. Rowe. "No, sir, I wouldn't do that," he replied. When the dioxin tests were first published by The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1981, 40 inmates and ex-inmates contacted the E.P.A. because they believed they were among the people being tested.

Nine of the men were questioned, but Davido concluded that there was no way to know which of them had been tested for dioxin.


Continue reading the main story


What experiments were done on prisoners in Philadelphia? ›

The city allowed University of Pennsylvania researcher Dr. Albert Kligman to conduct the dermatological, biochemical and pharmaceutical experiments that intentionally exposed about 300 inmates to viruses, fungus, asbestos and chemical agents including dioxin — a component of Agent Orange.

What was the dioxin tests? ›

Human Experiments: The Dioxin Tests

His particular brief was to observe how human skin reacts to harsh chemicals, a process known as “hardening,” though he also tested psychoactive drugs as well. The specific chemicals he was to test, and many of the other details about his work, are lost to history.

Did Philadelphia apologize for decades of medical experiments on black inmates that involved a component of Agent Orange? ›

Philadelphia apologizes for decades of medical experiments on Black inmates that involved a component of Agent Orange. The city allowed a researcher to conduct dermatological, biochemical and pharmaceutical experiments that intentionally exposed inmates to viruses, fungus, asbestos and chemical agents.

Who did the experiments on prisoners for Agent Orange? ›

Between 1951 and 1974, Kligman exposed approximately seventy-five prisoners at Holmesburg to high doses of dioxin, the contaminant responsible for Agent Orange's toxicity. Dow Chemical paid Kligman $10,000 to conduct the experiments on the toxicity effects of this chemical warfare agent.

Do they experiment on prisoners? ›

According to the Common Rule (45 CFR 46), prisoners may only be included in human subjects research when the research involves no more than a minimal risk of harm.

How many prisoners left the experiment early? ›

Q: How many prisoners left the experiment early? A: Half the prisoners were released early due to severe emotional or cognitive reactions.

How do you remove dioxin from your body? ›

the only cure for severe dioxin poisoning could be eating food meant for dieters. Eating snacks containing a fat substitute called Olestra can speed up the removal of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls ( pcb s ) from the body.

What does dioxin do to the human body? ›

Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. Due to the omnipresence of dioxins, all people have background exposure, which is not expected to affect human health.

Which human food has the highest amount of dioxin? ›

Fatty foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, milk, egg and their products are the major dietary sources of dioxins.

What was the Philadelphia experiment Agent Orange? ›

These experiments intentionally exposed incarcerated inmates at the prison to various pharmaceuticals, viruses, fungus, asbestos and dioxin, a component of Agent Orange. According to the release, the majority of these inmates were Black men, and many of them were illiterate.

What university apologizes for experiments on inmates? ›

The University of California, San Francisco, has apologized for dermatology experiments in the 1960s and 1970s using “questionable research methods” that exposed imprisoned subjects to herbicides and pesticides.

Who was the dermatologist who used prisoners as guinea pigs? ›

Albert Kligman in the ​International Journal of Trichology ​in 2010, wrote, “​he got bad press for the 'infamous' experiments that he conducted in an American prison on inmates and the press hounded him probably much more than what was required.

What is the average compensation for Agent Orange? ›

Of the 105,000 claims received by the Payment Program, approximately 52,000 Vietnam Veterans or their survivors received cash payments which averaged about $3,800 each.

How long does it take for Agent Orange to show up? ›

Elevated blood TCDD levels, probably related to Agent Orange exposure, can be detected between two and three decades after potential exposure in some American veterans. Original levels were estimated to be 35-1,500-fold greater that that of the general population (4 ppt, lipid) at the time of exposure.

What are the 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange? ›

Requirements for Agent Orange presumptive diseases
  • Bladder cancer.
  • Chronic B-cell leukemia.
  • Hodgkin's disease.
  • Multiple myeloma.
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Prostate cancer.
  • Respiratory cancers (including lung cancer)
  • Some soft tissue sarcomas.
Oct 12, 2022

What experiments were done on inmates? ›

SAN FRANCISCO — A prominent California medical school has apologized for conducting dozens of unethical medical experiments on at least 2,600 incarcerated men in the 1960s and 1970s, including putting pesticides and herbicides on the men's skin and injecting it into their veins.

When was human experimentation banned? ›

Because of the public outrage, in 1974 Congress passed the National Research Act, to provide for protection of human subjects in experiments.

Why can't we experiment on prisoners? ›

The individual could have picked up natural immunities to all manner of diseases, creating confounding variables in the research. Many of those in prison have past problems with drugs or alcohol, or other health related issues which may interfere with the experiments.

What does it mean to be turned out in jail? ›

A "turn-out" is someone who may or may not actually be gay, but they never had a homosexual experience outside of prison. However, when they come to prison they engage in sexual activities, though usually under heavy persuasion in the beginning . . . .

What is pathological prisoner syndrome? ›

• Pathological prisoner syndrome – initial rebellion followed by passivity and obedience. A range of negative. emotions e.g. crying, depression, rage and acute anxiety. • Pathology of power – the guards used their power and authority to control the prisoners e.g. use of sanctions, punishments etc.

What happened to prisoner 8612 after the experiment? ›

Thirty-six hours into the experiment, prisoner #8612 was released on account of acute emotional distress, but only after (incorrectly) telling his prison-mates that they were trapped and not allowed to leave, insisting that it was no longer an experiment.

What household products contain dioxin? ›

There is enough dioxin in bleached coffee filters to exceed acceptable levels according to the EPA. Dioxins are also stored in animal fats, full fat dairy products, fatty fish like salmon, trout, tuna and produce that uses pesticides. Paper plates leach it into food and bleached feminine products contain dioxins.

Where is dioxin stored in the body? ›

As in animals, dioxin is stored in human adipose tissue. Certain population groups, such as nursing babies and people who eat a diet high in animal fat or in contaminated foods because of their proximity to dioxin release sites, are exposed to higher than average levels of dioxin.

What is the number one source of dioxin? ›

Dioxins are mainly byproducts of industrial practices. They are produced through a variety of incineration processes, including improper municipal waste incineration and burning of trash, and can be released into the air during natural processes, such as forest fires and volcanoes.

What are three cancers caused by dioxin? ›

Hodgkin lymphoma (Hodgkin disease) Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Multiple myeloma. Prostate cancer.

What hormone does dioxin affect? ›

-Dioxin can also lower the levels of androgens and affect the amount of thyroid hormones in the body. Dioxin can decrease insulin levels and change the amount of glucocorticoids. endocrine alterations in people, wildlife, and experimental animals.

What are examples of dioxin? ›

Types of dioxins

These are: chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs) polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) some polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Do eggs contain dioxin? ›

Eggs contribute for about 4% to the daily dioxin intake of humans. Research among layer farms in the Netherlands and other EU countries has shown that organic eggs contain more dioxin than conventional ones and that a significant number of organic farms produce eggs with a dioxin content that exceeds the EU standard.

Does chicken have dioxins? ›

Political scandal. The Dioxin Affair started with some complaints from chicken farmers who noticed increased death among newborn chickens. Laboratory analysis confirmed the presence of dioxin-like toxins well above normal limits in the eggs, tissues and feed of the affected birds.

How long do toxic chemicals stay in the body? ›

Some chemicals leave the body quickly after a person is exposed. Others may remain in fat, blood, or bones for a long time. For example, arsenic usually stays in the body for only 3 days after a person is exposed 1 time. Other chemicals, such as the pesticide DDT, can stay in the body for 50 years or more.

What did Agent Orange do to humans? ›

Among the Vietnamese, exposure to Agent Orange is considered to be the cause of an abnormally high incidence of miscarriages, skin diseases, cancers, birth defects, and congenital malformations (often extreme and grotesque) dating from the 1970s.

What did Agent Orange do to kids? ›

Spina bifida is a spinal cord birth defect. A baby develops spina bifida while still in the womb. In some cases, a parent's past contact with specific chemicals causes this birth defect.

Did Agent Orange have dioxin? ›

Agent Orange was a herbicide mixture used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Much of it contained a dangerous chemical contaminant called dioxin. Production of Agent Orange ended in the 1970s and is no longer in use. The dioxin contaminant however continues to have harmful impact today.

Is it ethical to experiment on prisoners? ›

The general principle holds for all research: Ethically permissible research must offer benefits to prisoners that outweigh the risks. On the risk side of the equation, it will be important to analyze all potential risks, even something as seemingly innocuous as an interview.

Are guinea pigs still used in experiments? ›

Comparatively fewer guinea pigs are used in research today, but the species is still commonly used in studies of the respiratory and hearing systems.

What famous people have guinea pigs? ›

There are a lot of famous owners of guinea pigs, including Lady Diana Spencer, Natalie Wood and Deborah Harry.

Are guinea pigs therapy animals? ›

In fact, all domestic animals can become emotional support animals, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rats, hedgehogs, mini pigs, birds, etc. You will need an ESA letter for your therapist so that your pet guinea pig can become your emotional support animal.

How far back will the VA pay back pay? ›

The VA typically only pays disability compensation going back to the date of discharge to veterans who apply for their VA disability benefits within one year of being discharged. All of this underscores the need to submit your VA disability benefits claim as soon as possible.

Does Agent Orange cause disability? ›

Diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and several forms of cancer are among the diseases caused by Agent Orange. If you were exposed to Agent Orange during military service, you may qualify for VA disability benefits.

How much money do Vietnam veterans get? ›

For veterans who received VA's disability payments in addition to their other income, the average annual payment was $18,100. Those disability payments made their income higher than other veterans' income, on average.

What is the difference between a Vietnam veteran and a Vietnam era veteran? ›

Vietnam era veterans are those who served during the time of the Vietnam war but didn't set foot in the country of Vietnam. The Vietnam vet is one who was assigned within the combat zone of the country and it's surrounding waters.

What years qualify for a Vietnam era veteran? ›

Vietnam War era (November 1, 1955, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during that period. August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975, for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam.)

What benefits does a Vietnam veteran have? ›

VA Benefits for Vietnam Veterans

VA benefits include disability compensation, pension, education and training, health care, home loans, insurance, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and burial.

Is Agent Orange a 100 disability? ›

With a proper diagnosis of respiratory cancer in a veteran with Agent Orange exposure, the VA will provide a 100% disability rating as long as the cancer is active and during treatment. This means that the veteran will receive the highest compensation that fits their eligibility bracket.

How do you know if you were exposed to Agent Orange? ›

Unfortunately, there's no medical test or biological feature that can show that someone was exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides, so the health exam cannot confirm that you were (or were not) exposed.

Can you get 100 VA disability for hypothyroidism? ›

A 100 percent disability rating is warranted for hypothyroidism with cold intolerance, muscular weakness, cardiovascular involvement, mental disturbance (dementia, slowing of thought, depression), bradycardia (less than 60 heart beats per minute), and sleepiness. 38 C.F.R. § 4.119, DC 7903.

Is there a blood test for dioxin? ›


During the medical exam, we collected blood samples to determine the level of dioxin in the blood. Blood levels of dioxin in U.S. residents are generally less than 20 ppt (parts of dioxin per trillion parts of lipid). The average level is about 7 ppt.

What products have dioxin in them? ›

Dioxins are found throughout the world in the environment , and they accumulate in food chain s , concentrating mainly in the fatty tissue of animals . More than 90% of typical human exposure is estimated by EPA to be through the in take of animal fats , mainly meat , dairy products, fish , and shellfish.

What is the goal for dioxin levels in drinking water? ›

California Public Health Goals Data

The Public Health Goal for TCDD (Doxin) is 0.00005 nanograms/liter (ng/L) or 0.05 picograms/liter (pg/L).

What are some examples of dioxins? ›

Types of dioxins

These are: chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs) polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) some polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

How do I find out if I am on the Agent Orange registry? ›

Contact your local VA Environmental Health Coordinator about getting an Agent Orange Registry health exam. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is improving but is still not over. We highly encourage all Veterans to receive a vaccination.

Do sanitary pads contain dioxin? ›

Although dioxins are found in trace amounts in both cotton and pulp sanitary products, exposure to dioxins through tampons and diapers does not significantly contribute to dioxin exposures in the United States.

Can dioxin cause kidney problems? ›

Conclusion. A high dioxin level was associated with an increased prevalence of CKD. Therefore, the kidney function of populations with exposure to dioxin should be monitored.

Is there a cure for dioxin? ›

Incineration at temperatures above 1200°C is considered the most effective way of destroying dioxins.

What does dioxin do to the heart? ›

Now a systematic review of epidemiologic studies has found an association between dioxin exposure and death from cardiovascular diseases, particularly ischemic heart disease (reduced blood supply to the heart) [EHP 116:1443–1448; Humblet et al.].

What are other names for dioxin? ›

dioxin, also called polychlorinated dibenzodioxin, any of a group of aromatic hydrocarbon compounds known to be environmental pollutants that are generated as undesirable by-products in the manufacture of herbicides, disinfectants, and other agents.

How do you get dioxin poisoning? ›

Most people are exposed to dioxins throughout their lifetime in small amounts through the foods they eat, especially through the fat of meat, eggs, whole milk, cheese and other dairy products. Dioxins are taken up by fish and other animals, where they get concentrated and stored in fatty tissue.


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