DOE Openness: Human Radiation Experiments: Roadmap to the Project
Health Physicist William J. Bair, Ph.D.
Dr. Patricia Wallace Durbin, Ph.D.
HUMAN RADIATION STUDIES:
|CAPUTO:||Today is November 11, 1994. This is
Marisa Caputo from the Office of Human Radiation Experiments, Department of
Energy. I'm here with Dr. Darrell Fisher from Battelle, Pacific Northwest
Laboratory. Today we're interviewing Dr. Patricia Durbin from Lawrence Berkeley
Laboratory. The purpose of this interview is to get Dr. Durbin's memories and
recollections on human radiation experimentation that occurred during the Cold
What we'd like to start with is [when] you retired a few years ago?
|DURBIN:||1 October 1991.|
|CAPUTO:||Why did you retire?|
|DURBIN:||Because my support was withdrawn. I was perfectly willing to go on working, literally until I dropped.|
|DURBIN:||Department of Energy.|
|FISHER:||Office of Health and Environmental Research?|
|DURBIN:||Office of Health and Environmental Research.|
|FISHER:||What project were you working on in 1991?|
|DURBIN:||I was working on the final compilation of three large bodies of data that had been collected over a long period of time, dealing with the metabolism of strontium-90 and americium-241 and plutonium-238 in monkeys. The compilation, which we did complete, was preparatory to a formal analysis of the data, much of which had been at least highlighted in publications. But, the [basic materials] had not really been explored thoroughly. Nor had it ever been all brought together in one systematic way, which is really the requirement for an appropriate analysis of information of that kind. The analysis of the data is now supported in the sort of piecemeal fashion through the archives at Battelle.1|
|FISHER:||This is the National Radiobiology Archives?|
|DURBIN:||Yes, that's currently being managed
by Dr. [Charles] Watson. It is supported in a rather curious way, in that when a
job is finished or a manuscript is presented, a small amount of money is
provided to cover the costs. It's a very difficult thing to do, because in a
laboratory environment like LBL [Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory] I have to borrow
from my ongoing [National Institutes of Health] research account in order to get
certain kinds of services and then pay the research account back. It's very
difficult. That material is in process.
There have been some difficult and unpleasant diversions, namely the first three months of this year, for example, that were heavily occupied by interviews and presentations with respect to the plutonium-injected people and the immediate post-World War II work at the old Crocker Laboratory.
I have an ongoing project which is supported by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences to do biological evaluation of new actinide2 chelating3 agents, which are being designed for therapeutic removal of actinides from contaminated human beings. That work is very consuming in terms of time and mental effort. I'm not paid by either account.
|FISHER:||You are retired from LBL. What is your title here at the laboratory?|
|DURBIN:||I'm a Participating Guest with the classification of Senior Scientist.|
|FISHER:||You essentially put in full workdays even in retirement.|
|FISHER:||Do you have any current Department of Energy research support?|
|DURBIN:||Only when I produce a manuscript on the monkey material.|
|FISHER:||Through which office?|
|DURBIN:||It comes directly through the National Radiobiology Archives.|
|FISHER:||On a subcontract?|
|DURBIN:||I guess, I suppose so.|
|FISHER:||Is that through Battelle, [Pacific] Northwest [Laboratory]?|
|FISHER:||Could you describe when the monkey injections took place and when these animals provided the data that you're working with now?|
|DURBIN:||The strontium sequence was initiated in 1954, and the last animals in that group were injected in about 1981. The americium series was started around 1960, and the last animals were injected in that sequence in about 1981. The plutonium studies were started about 1974, and the last animal in that sequence was injected in 1980.|
|FISHER:||So this represents forty years of research that you're now finishing up, compiling data on.|
|DURBIN:||The data are essentially compiled. The data have been converted to a computer archive and [are available] in tabular form [as] hard copy.|
|FISHER:||What are the major outcomes of this research?|
|DURBIN:||Many of the major outcomes are still
buried in the results. As I said earlier, some modest summaries have been
prepared based on preliminary examinations of parts of the information. But, in
the case of the strontium information, what I have to work with is not only our
own work, but a substantial body of data that we received in the form of
unanalyzed radioactivity measurements, clinical records, and eight live animals
from a study started by the late Lawrence Tuttle at the University of Rochester,4 [and] then moved in about 1963.
Although we also have the information and the data-much of it unpublished from a
small number of studies that were done at Rochester before 1963, beginning
around 1954-we cared for those live animals for a number of years after they
came to us in the middle 1960s.
The strontium data represents the culmination or fruition, if you will, of two very large studies. The Rochester information is essentially unpublished. It was not included in any of our summaries. The material was sent to us with the understanding that we would incorporate both the animals and the measurements in an analysis of our own material and bring the two [sets] into one coherent whole. I still hope I can accomplish that.
|FISHER:||How long will it take to complete this work?|
|DURBIN:||Every time I've been asked that-and
I've been asked it many times over the years-I have obviously seriously
underestimated how long it's going to take. A great deal depends upon whether or
not I work on this material steadily or whether I work on it sporadically. There
is [one] piece almost ready to incorporate into a usable manuscript, but there's
an enormous amount of material.
The strontium study incorporates radioactivity measurements continuously or [at regular] intervals after injection, of excreta, blood samples, and [external] radioactivity measurements [of whole body retention. At autopsy, the strontium was measured] in all of the individual bones, many of them subdivided into anatomical subunits, so that we can get information about compact bone versus spongy bone. Except for a few [early] animals, a sample set of six bone types [was studied by] gross autoradiograph[y].5 The autoradiographs have been completed to our satisfaction. The plutonium and americium studies have these same kinds of information plus autoradiographs of soft tissues.
The slide files for these animals occupy a commodious cupboard. One of the things that was done quite recently was to take the slides from each individual animal, which were filed by animal, and reorder them by tissue, filed in order of increasing days post-injection, so that we now have for each tissue a chronologic sequence of the autoradiographs. They've been examined once in a cursory fashion, but all of these are going to have to be reexamined. The autoradiographs of the bones are going to have to be examined carefully and evaluated. It isn't just the numerical data that requires this kind of attention. I may not finish this in my lifetime.
|FISHER:||These studies focus on not just biodistribution of strontium in the bone over time, but also with the radiobiological effects?|
|DURBIN:||No, these were never designed as
bioeffect studies. The dosages were designed, within the [scope of] information
that was available at the time the injections took place, [to be nontoxic!]. The
dosages were designed so that over long periods of time, with the kinds of
radioactivity detection equipment we possessed, we could make accurate
determinations of radioactivity in one week or pooled two-week excreta samples,
[and] that a more refined technique could still detect over background, the
quantit[y] of radioactivity in a small blood sample.
As far as we can tell, in the strontium studies there is one equivocal [soft- tissue lesion]. In close to one hundred animals that were [studied at] Berkeley and Rochester, two of the longer-term animals developed cataracts, but these are not uncommon in aging monkeys. Not very much is known about aging monkeys. One carcinoma6 of the gingiva7 [was identified] that conceivably could have been related to the strontium in the mandible8 and around the roots of the teeth. There is no pathology in the plutonium study, and we have one obvious osteogenic9 sarcoma10 in [one] animal in the americium studies.
This was not intended as a bioeffects study. Anybody who looks at the almost randomness with which animals were injected and incorporated into the study would shudder, [should we] have the temerity to analyze the data and make comments about radiation effects, because it simply is not that kind of a study.
|FISHER:||You've done both in your career. You've looked at radiobiology, pathology, radiation, incorporated radionuclides as well as [bio]distribution.|
|DURBIN:||My personal involvement with studies designed specifically to look for radiation effects is really quite limited. My central purpose [and] strength has been the biodistribution [and] biokinetics11 work.|
|DURBIN:||Yes, if you want to use that term.|
|FISHER:||Do you expect that these monkey studies will result in any changes in our current thinking on strontium metabolism in man?|
|DURBIN:||I'm not sure anything changes the current thinking on the metabolism of anything in anybody. But, the taxpayers paid for this work; they deserve a report on it. The Government agencies, the AEC, the Energy Research and Development Administration, Department of Energy, [and] the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, all provided money support for these studies at one time or another. They deserve a report. I do think that what will come out of this is that there will be some refinement in thinking.|
|FISHER:||Perhaps [you will recommend] a new model for strontium metabolism?|
|DURBIN:||The data certainly are there to do that. I don't know that I'm qualified to do it. I know that the data are there. This is the only set of data in existence in any species where we have continuous measurements of body retention based on [both] excretion [and] on in vivo12 counting, for animals that are mature [of] both sexes, [and] juveniles [of] both sexes, over extended periods of time. We also have an internal skeleton distribution, not just whole bone or whole skeleton content, but [also] the relative contents of different kinds of bone. One of the things that these data do do, and you can see it in the information as it comes out, [is] that there's substantial variability.|
|FISHER:||From one animal to another.|
|DURBIN:||From one animal to another and
between the two colonies. The initial deposition in the skeletons of the
Rochester animals was substantially larger than in the animals that were
injected here at Berkeley. There wasn't very much difference in the ages of the
animals. So it basically had to do, we suppose, with diet and with the kind of
exercise they were getting.
Our animals were housed individually, they were on a very high-calcium diet. [For] the Rochester animals, it is not possible at this stage to reconstruct what their diet really was. All the people who were involved in the management of the monkey colony at Rochester are either dead or unavailable; or they've forgotten; or they didn't pay any attention to it in the first place because it wasn't [considered] important. Their animals were housed in gang cages so that they got a great deal more exercise. These things could have influenced [strontium deposition].
But, the thing that makes this set of information important, is that each animal can be followed as an individual. It's not grouped data. In fact, it's almost impossible to group [these data], because of the variable of the injection times. But when the individual's body retentions are plotted, there are variations in the intercept coefficients in a multiexponential analysis, [but] there are no real variations in the slopes of the individual components of the retention curve. The retention curve has a fixed number of components. We're not absolutely certain what each one of those means. Probably [most] of them are averages or composites of more than one process. But the same components emerged; it's just that they tend to be displaced.
The other thing that comes out of the strontium data, unequivocally, is the relatively faster loss from cancellous13 bone than from compact14 bone. Because strontium is sufficiently discriminated against and therefore reasonably efficiently excreted, once it starts circulating, there is relatively little reutilization, compare[d] with plutonium or americium where there is substantial, almost quantitative, reutilization.
|FISHER:||Can you explain that?|
|DURBIN:||Strontium doesn't form strong
complexes with serum proteins.15
It's not as firmly bound in bone mineral as calcium is, and it's not absorbed
from the gut as well as calcium is. It can pass through the glomerular16 filter. There appears to be a
discrimination at the kidney level for reabsorption. Calcium is preferentially
reabsorbed over strontium. The strontium that gets secreted in the GI
[(gastrointestinal)] tract is discriminated against. It probably also is
discriminated against at the bone level, because the ion is a little large, and
it doesn't fit quite as neatly into the crystal lattice [as calcium]. So that
once the strontium circulates, it has a high probability of being excreted. All
one needs to do is to look at data for injected strontium at, say, one day or a
week. At that [time] in the adult animals, some 80 percent has already been
eliminated on average.
In the case of the actinides, there is significant [serum] protein binding, which inhibits renal excretion, and the[re is a] tendency to form strong complexes with both the iron-binding protein, transferrin,17 with ferritin18 in the liver. We assume that transferrin-bound actinides can participate in the iron transfer mechanism that moves iron from the serum into liver cells. In my judgment, the strong complexes that [actinides] form with the mineralized surface of bone provide an almost overwhelming [opportunity] for the actinides, even if they [are] recirculat[ed] to be redeposited at new sites and not eliminated. One of the difficulties in utilizing the monkey data as stand-in for humans, is that the monkeys possess a[n] efficient biliary19 outlet for actinides. There isn't any evidence for an efficient biliary outlet for actinides in people. There is an outlet, but it seems to be rather restricted.
|FISHER:||Can you explain that a little [further]?|
|DURBIN:||It appears to be a species difference [and the mechanism remains to be explained]. Dogs don't excrete actinides through their bile to any significant degree, and people don't, and hamsters don't, and rabbits don't. Monkeys, mice, rats, I guess those are the only animals that we've looked at, do excrete [actinides in the bile].|
|FISHER:||That wasn't known before you started working with monkeys?|
|FISHER:||That's something that you've learned through this research. Monkeys were chosen because they represent a suitable model for man.|
|DURBIN:||That's right. They're the best model there is.|
|FISHER:||They were used in place of human research.|
|DURBIN:||[That was the underlying] notion for
the instigation of the strontium studies [in monkeys] begun in 1954. It was
apparent to the people who had information when the fusion weapons were tested
[in the atmosphere] that a substantial amount of strontium-90 [would be]
dispersed worldwide. There was reason to be concerned about the potential
The studies were started at Berkeley and at Rochester for the purpose of using an animal that was the closest relative to man that you could manage in a laboratory. I don't think that animals like chimpanzees or orangutans were even considered. Monkeys were available, [and] people had experience working with them. There were small colonies in existence at both Berkeley and at Rochester.
|FISHER:||Was this early work ever associated with what has been called the Sunshine Project?20|
|DURBIN:||It was part of it.|
|FISHER:||Can you elaborate on how it was a part of Project Sunshine?|
|DURBIN:||It was my understanding that all the work that dealt with strontium-90 fallout was a part of that project. This dealt with strontium-90 fallout, specifically and exclusively.|
|FISHER:||Did you think of it in terms of Project Sunshine back in the early '50s, middle, [or] late '50s?|
|DURBIN:||The initial results were secret. We ha[ve] a file, still in existence, on a couple of the [first] injected monkeys, labeled as Project Sunshine animals.|
|FISHER:||The term "Project Sunshine" was quite familiar to you back in those days?|
|FISHER:||Did that seem unusual to you in any way?|
|DURBIN:||Look, we lived in a classified world.
When I started working as a dishwasher in [the] laboratory, I [was] required [to
have] a security clearance. We were cleared; everybody who worked in Crocker was
cleared. When I went to work there, we had guards at the doors; there was barbed
wire around the building and [around] the building across the alley from us;
there were alarms; there were lights all night. It was a thoroughly secure
installation. We expected, when we worked there, to be working on secure work.
Sometime in the middle '50s, the Livermore Laboratory was established. It was established, as I understand it, for the specific purpose of moving classified work off the Berkeley campus, off the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory Hill. There was some pressure on the part of faculty members to open up the hill to noncitizens-to be able to bring foreign guests, graduate students, [and] undergraduate students into the research facilities. To do that, all of the classified material or classified work had to be removed from the premises. And that's what happened. By roughly 1965, it was decided that it made no sense to "Q clear21 everybody at th[is] laboratory anymore, and the practice was stopped. I'm sure that there are some people who still have "Q" clearances [at LBL], but the great bulk of us no longer do.
|DURBIN:||Including me. I haven't had one since the '60s.|
|FISHER:||Do you recall, back in those days or since, discussions of [the] potential differences between human metabolism of strontium and the metabolism [by] monkeys or other species that you worked with?|
|DURBIN:||Unfortunately, the monkey strontium
data were not coming out very rapidly. The monkey colony was always small. The
data generated by each animal vari[ed] from the [others in the] cohort. To be
honest with you, we couldn't make a whole lot out of it. But, by 1973, when I
produced a summary report, it began to look as though, at least for adult human
beings, in some cases there [would] be similarit[ies] and in other cases there
might not be [similarities] with the monkey material.
But, by that time, [the atmospheric test ban was in place, and] enough information had been gleaned from a variety of sources dealing directly with human material that there really wasn't [much] policy interest from the management at Headquarters [in] press[ing] the point of analyzing and utilizing the monkey information.
It now appears that when all of the animal information has been bulked together and every animal is accounted for, (among those that are fully mature, skeletally as well as sexually mature [and for] both sexes) that the overall body retention curve and the human model that's presently in use by ICRP22 are a very good match. It's gratifying, but in some respects, it's a little surprising.
|FISHER:||Were you aware of the human strontium injection studies that took place [at San Francisco or Berkeley] early in the '40s, in the '50s, [or] in the 1960s in human patients?|
|DURBIN:||Even though I possessed Dr. [Joseph]
Hamilton's bound reprint collection, I hadn't looked at those materials very
carefully. I knew that there were people who had been injected with strontium.
The famous amputated-leg autoradiograph is a[n] important piece of
radiobiolog[al], nuclear medicine,23
[and] mineral metabolism information, as [is] the little girl with the crude
Geiger counter across her neck for thyroid24
uptake determination. Those are probably two of the most widely published
pictures. You couldn't not be aware.
I didn't pay a great deal of attention to the specific data [from] those early studies. There was one [by] [Anne] Treadwell and [another by] [Charles] Pecher. I didn't pay particularly much attention to [the human data] because the Pecher work was [more] relevant to what I was interested in: rodents. The Treadwell et al. work didn't seem at the time to be informative to what we were looking for in the monkeys. In retrospect, when and if I get around to reporting the differential distribution and retention of strontium-90 in monkey bones, I will revisit that information because I think it does have some [relevance]. But, there is an enormous amount of fallout data that also informs on that issue.
|FISHER:||Do you remember discussing these studies with Dr. Hamilton?|
|DURBIN:||No. Let's set the stage for what my
relationship was with Dr. Hamilton. I was, I think in his judgment because he
had no children, one among several of his pseudochildren. He had a pleasantly
paternalistic attitude about the people who worked for him. One of the pleasant
parts was that he genuinely encouraged [us, and] this was long before anybody
had rigorous policies of compensation time for education. All you had to say
was, "I'd like to take some classes, and it takes this much out of my day.
Can I make up the time?" And he'd say, "Oh, yes, do that, I really
want you to take more classes."
He provided a great deal of encouragement in terms of studies. He provided encouragement in careers-finishing a bachelor's [degree], going on to graduate school, finishing graduate school, finding a job. But I don't think that he would have discussed such matters [as the strontium injection studies] with anybody except his medical peers. I think he looked on Kenneth Scott as a peer, because they were about the same age, and they had worked together for a long time. What he and I discussed were the ins and outs of experimental designs, the preparation of manuscripts. We maintained the relationship (and it didn't last very long, because he didn't live very much longer,) of the graduate student and the major professor. Unless the major professor was sort of unburdening his soul, there wasn't very much likelihood that we were going to be discussing such things.
When the strontium studies were starting, he announced that we were going to start strontium studies. We then began to plan how we were going to go about it and what we were going to do and what kind of samples and what kind of animals. Then he just turned over the execution of the project to me. We knew it had to do with fallout and so on, but that part of it wasn't discussed. We'd been asked to do it by [AEC] Headquarters. He said he would get it done. He gave the instructions to do the work, and we then set about executing on the experiments. We would discuss periodically how it was going and what the results were and what the outcomes were. When [a] manuscript was prepared he would read the manuscript and make changes. In the paper that was prepared on the first strontium-injected monkeys, which was part of a conference that was held joint[ly by] DOD-AEC he was a coauthor, but he didn't pay a whole lot of attention to what was going on.
He enjoyed the fact that we had a baby monkey. My colleagues, Muriel Johnston and Sybil Cole devised diapers for this monkey, so that we could collect his excreta and [they] devised ways to try crudely, using in vivo measurements, [to] decide how much [strontium] was in the [whole body]. [Eventually,] we had three infant monkeys. He thought that was fun. He also thought it was funny that, as the oldest of them began to grow up, Muriel and Sybil fitted him out with a collar and harness and a leash and took him out into the Mining Circle to play. I don't know exactly who complained, but somebody eventually complained [and the outings ceased].
|FISHER:||This leads into another experiment that was conducted, that many people don't understand. Maybe you can explain it and clarify it. That [was] the study on calcium and strontium metabolism in three infants.|
|DURBIN:||There were six.|
|FISHER:||There were six infants. You had quite a bit of involvement in this study in conjunction with Justine Berg.|
|DURBIN:||Let's put it this way: It was my study, and Justine Berg was my technical assistant.|
|FISHER:||Describe this experiment, what you did, and the technical outcomes.|
|DURBIN:||[It concerned] one of the large
questions with respect to fallout strontium. One of the central questions was: "If
the discrimination factors at the gut level, kidney level, and bone level for
adults are such-and-such, and if they're influenced by the presence of calcium
in the diet in various forms-some increasing absorption, some decreasing
absorption-are these same discrimination factors present at the same degree from
birth to death?"
Calcium absorption is a very difficult thing to measure if you're just dealing with stable calcium. Calcium balances are something that many people [tried to measure over many years]. I think they invested huge quantities of time and effort before tracers were available. Some of the answers [about] influence[s on] calcium absorption were still unavailable. But, it did appear that calcium absorption was more efficient in infants and growing children than it was in adults. That being the case, you could make the same assumptions with respect to strontium.
|FISHER:||By discrimination factors, you mean the preferential uptake of calcium over strontium?|
|DURBIN:||I think that that's backward. Calcium
is utilized in the normal course of animal physiology. And, certain precise
mechanisms have been incorporated into animals to get the amounts of calcium
that they need to have and to retain the amounts of calcium they need to retain
in the face of what their dietary intake is and what their growth needs are.
Strontium is present in all calcium preparations. It's ubiquitous in nature. But, it's not present at the same concentration in animals' bones and tissues as it is in nature. The concentration of strontium in animals is substantially less than it is in rocks or in plants, which indicates that strontium's ability to penetrate, if you wish, ride on, the calcium-absorbing, -transferring, [and] -utilizing mechanisms is not equivalent-it's less.
Basically, this is because the ion size is somewhat larger. We know that all these transport mechanisms involve proteins, they involve complex formation, they involve crystal formation, and in every case ion size is an important factor. "Discrimination factor" was nice shorthand to say that calcium was used and strontium was not used.
Anyway, back to the original question, which was about the baby experiment. I'm not sure whether this was our idea or whether it was a request from Headquarters. But, I do know that there were regular meetings of biomedical directors and, at those meetings, the central management, Division of Biology and Medicine (DBM), laid out their laundry lists of things that they needed to know. Sometimes they would point out a laboratory that had the best facilities to do a specific chore. Sometimes it would go to somebody in one of the laboratories who had already accumulated some information on a particular point. Sometimes they would just sort of broadcast, "We need assistance on this matter." And I rather think that the baby study was a result of that last kind of call for assistance and information.
The concept of the study was quite straightforward. We would enlist the cooperation of some women who were not going to nurse their newborns. The period from birth to six months was supposed to be the most critical. We would then provide them with a standard source of milk. In the original case, it was Carnation canned milk. We would provide them with diaper service and with all of the solid food that would be required (juices, cereals, canned fruits, teething biscuits, canned vegetables, canned meat). We had quite an array of things. At that time, the array of these kinds of dietary constituents was not as great as it is now.
We also enlisted the cooperation of the Gerber baby food people. We were going to be able to provide them [(Gerber)] (this is cooperating with the Government) with the calcium balance data when it was all over because we planned to do calcium balances as a sort of side issue.
The design of the experiment was that we provided cloth diapers and all of the food and all the milk. The participants in the study had only two tasks and one prohibition. The prohibition was that you don't use any other food, nothing off the table, nothing you buy at the store. The requirements were, [first,] that you record what kind of food and how much on every day. [Second,] we provided them with big plastic-covered diaper pails. When diaper changes took place, [and] the infants were wiped, the number of wipes (which we also provided) was recorded, the number of diapers used was recorded, and [all wipes and] diapers [were] rolled up and put in the diaper pail to be picked up. We delivered food and milk and diapers and picked up dirty diapers and records.
Justine Berg's third daughter was a participant in this. Marshall Parrott, who was working at the laboratory, [had a] son [who] was a participant in this. The four other people were friends.
|FISHER:||When you say "participants," were they the infants?|
|DURBIN:||They were the fathers and mothers of the infants. Their children participated; they and their children participated.|
|FISHER:||Do you recall the others?|
|DURBIN:||I don't recall who the others were.
Justine [Berg] made the contacts. They were students' wives, the children of
students' wives. I think she lived in student housing at the time. As far as I
know, the participants were encouraged, if not required, to tell their
pediatricians that they were participating in this study, to get the
pediatrician's permission to use canned milk as a [sole] milk source, and to get
the pediatrician's advice about how much of each one of these foods to feed and
when to feed it. We weren't just hanging loose.
The first round was with cloth diapers. I have the data books that I could go to. But, it's my best recollection, what we were going to do was analyze the diaper ash, milk ash, and mixed-food ash, and then the dirty- diaper ash.
The ashes were ground up finely to make a good mixture and weighed. A weight fraction was removed. That weight fraction was run through a standard calcium oxalate procedure for calcium analysis. The calcium analysis was recorded, which gave us the calcium balance data.
|DURBIN:||-Stable calcium data. Another weight aliquot25 was put into a glass bottle and sent to an analytical laboratory that had the capability of very low- level strontium-90 detection. We didn't have that capability.|
|FISHER:||Do you remember where that was?|
|DURBIN:||Do I know where it was? Menlo Park, [or] Palo Alto. I could find all the information. It was the same laboratory that eventually analyzed our long- term strontium monkey [excreta] samples, [and] long-term monkey blood samples. [That laboratory] changed hands many time and ended up as Teledyne Isotopes or something like that. The idea was that we would analyze the excreta, the food, the milk, the diapers for fallout strontium.|
|CAPUTO:||You added nothing to the products?|
|DURBIN:||No, nothing. The procedure [and] the
mathematical concept [were] utter simplicity. If you add the number of diapers
times strontium-90 per diaper, number of food [items] times strontium-90 for
food, number of milk [cans] times strontium-90 for milk, and then you subtract
the diapers from the excreta to get excrement [strontium], and you eliminate the
diapers' [strontium] and just have food and milk [strontium], and you subtract
the out[put] from the intake, you should get some notion about what the
Simple, beautiful concept. It should have worked beautifully, except for the milk source that we selected. Again, this was because we've always operated on the cheap.
The milk source, we also got donated by the Carnation Milk Company. After the strontium-90 results came back from the analyst-and I could show you the outcomes, but my recollection is that then we had it week- by-week so we could have done this-we only sent sample[s] for the first analytical round. We looked at the data and the strontium-90 content of the milk was low and the strontium-90 content of the food and the diapers was also very low.
We expected the diapers to be low. Milk was supposed to be the main source of the fallout strontium. That was what everybody was worried about, strontium-90 in the kiddies' milk. The quantities in the milk were so low and the quantities in the excreta were so variable that we got absorbed [fractions] ranging from zero to about 40 percent. We were doing something the statisticians abhorred: [We subtracted a large number] from another big number and got a very small difference. The reliability of that small difference is very low. Only after that did we make inquiries about where did this supply of milk originated. It turned out [that] it originated on the west side of Fresno County in Los Banos, California, one of the places where fallout strontium was the lowest of any place in the Continental United States. We were just appalled, shocked, distressed, almost in tears, because the milk levels in places like Missouri and New York were high enough [that] such measurements could have been made. A lot of work, essentially down the drain. We then tried another tack, which was to [be] based on stable strontium. The stable strontium content [of] the diapers was very high, [because it was] plant material, and [it was] also highly variable, because the diapers did not all come from a single job lot. We couldn't buy the whole supply all at once; we had to keep buying them in batches. We got bedeviled by the job-lot problem. So we tried another tack. That was [in] the second round where the fundamental study design was identical to what the first one had been. [For the second round,] we elected to use disposable [paper] diapers, which were just coming on the market, [on the assumption that the extra processing of wood pulp to paper would reduce the stable strontium content.]
|FISHER:||Rather than cotton [diapers]?|
|DURBIN:||We used disposable diapers and Similac rather than canned milk. [The maker was interested in] how people liked the product. So it was a bit of test marketing.|
|CAPUTO:||Similac is formula?|
|DURBIN:||I think it was Similac. I would have to look at the paper to get the precise brand name, but I think that's what it was. Everything proceeded happily. We prepared the samples for [stable] strontium measurement, not strontium-90, [but] stable strontium measurement [by] spectroscopy.26 We prepared clear solutions that could be used for spectroscopy. [George Shalimov], in the Applied Chemistry Division, ran huge numbers of samples [for us]. Again, we found that, even though we kept track of the job lots o[f] the disposable diapers and kept track of the job lots o[f] the Similac, there was a terrible variability in the stable strontium content of the paper (the cellulose fiber that went into making diapers) and such a tremendous variability in the stable strontium content from batch to batch of the Similac and [from] batch to batch of the baby food, that again we were stuck with this big number minus another big number and a very small difference which didn't mean anything. We tried to salvage some of this by using x-ray fluorescence,27 where we could get a better measurement. The [stable] strontium levels in all these things were so low, [that] spectroscopy gave us a lot of zeros. Samples were prepared of [a] calcium oxalate precipitate mixed with lecithin28 to make little wafers which went into holders, which we then took up to [University of California,] Davis to measure the stable strontium fluorescence using x- ray fluorescence. At that point, we realized that the outcome was [still] just lousy. Because the samples that gave us zero on the spectroscopy [also] gave us very low values on the x-ray fluorescence. We gave up on being able to make any kind of reasonably useful statement about the absorption of strontium-90 fallout or the absorption of stable strontium. We did finally publish the calcium balance data and calculate[d] what the sodium and potassium intakes were, based on the given analyses by the manufacturer, of what was in each can [of formula].|
|FISHER:||There was never any effort to deliver a known amount of isotope?|
|DURBIN:||No, it was all stable. It was either stable, or it was from the vagaries of wherever the fallout was coming from.|
|FISHER:||Even if the levels of activity had been sufficiently low that there wouldn't have been a risk to an infant, the deliberate administration of an isotope wasn't considered?|
|DURBIN:||We were not in the business of doing human studies. We were in the business of making what amounted to environmental measurements. It never even crossed our minds [to administer an isotope]. Eventually Bernd Kahn and his colleagues did devise a satisfactory infant strontium balance study. But, to do that, they had to enlist the services and pay the cost of having a manufacturer make for them a special run of disposable diaper material which was deliberately treated to eliminate the calcium and the strontium from the fibers, so that they had low- background diapers.|
|FISHER:||Where was that work done?|
|DURBIN:||I've forgotten. I could find out; no problem.|
|FISHER:||[Perhaps at] Oak Ridge?|
|DURBIN:||No, I don't think so.|
|FISHER:||We're changing the topic just a little now. Considering this work and the work [during] your career, [and remembering] the conference [on internal dosimetry research needs] that was held in Atlanta, organized by CIRRPC,29 what do you think the future research directions of the Department of Energy and radionuclide metabolism and biological effects should be?|
|DURBIN:||I'm not convinced that the present research agenda at OHER30 considers radionuclide metabolism and biological effects as an agenda item at all. I'm not even sure it's on their list; it's fallen off the bottom of the list, if it were on the list.|
|CAPUTO:||Should it be on the list?|
|DURBIN:||I think so. I think that it's part of
an ongoing obligation, as part of an ongoing compact with the public. This is an
area where the U.S. was once the unchallenged leader and is now the tail wagging
the dog. There is a place for a focused effort.
As far as I can see, OHER is the only place that has the financial mandate. NRC31 and EPA32 have regulatory mandates, but I don't think that they have the financ[es] to do these things.
I rather like the original notion that the [AEC's] Division of Biology and Medicine [(DBM)] , while it had some of its own research interests, was at the beck and call of what was then called Operations. If the Operations people had a problem, and there were environmental people in Operations, (and there were regulatory people in Operations) or questions that they wanted answered, they could go to DBM and say, "These are our problems, help us do something about it."
Those links have been broken. All the other agencies can do is to go to CIRRPC and all three together go to OHER and sort of plead and say, "These are what our problems are, please do something." And, then, OHER can decide whether it's going to do it or not. [In] the old days, it was [an] obligation to do it. I think that the link has been broken there.
There were a number of things that came up at the CIRRPC meeting. I have not seen a final draft of the output, and I suspect one of the reasons is that everybody is so discouraged about the fact or about the prospects of it going anywhere. Certainly, provision needs to be made for the people who did work [to report it]. This is personal horn tooting in some respects, but it makes sense; it's logical.
Data that [were] considered to be of value, or generated under the auspices of the old agencies-things that were considered, at the time that the experiments were begun, to be valuable-have not automatically become devalued, [just] because somebody's priority list has changed. They're still valuable. And, the taxpayers are still owed a report.
Extra effort needs to be made to see that data on-hand are made available and analyzed-not just made available.
It took me the better part of two years to make something out of the stuff I got from [the University of] Rochester [-and] I know the material. I've workedwith comparable material. It was just so fragmented, and so scrappy, and in many ways so unclear. The recording system was so variable that it took a tremendous amount of effort to codify and regularize and put into [a] system that [stores] information.
Somebody coming in cold, ten or twenty years from now, is going to have ever so much more difficulty making something out of people's data. Everybody's data taking, no matter whether you've got a good computer program or fine hand-done files, is idiosyncratic. The idiot who synchronized it in the first place is the best one at least to give you a roadmap as to what it means.
This dancing around human data, at this point, this notion that human data is somehow dirty, is self-defeating and foolhardy. We now know that because of the longer human life span-[there are] some fairly [human- ]specific aspects of metabolism-that animal data, while they are informative, are not quantitatively exact when it comes to describing the behavior of something in people.
There are data enough now in monkeys [and] dogs, so that comprehensive metabolic models can be constructed for those two [animals]. You wouldn't expect great variations in the structure[s] of the models. You do expect variations in the rates of transfer. And, plugging in what human data are available should give us much more reliable and, certainly physiologically, more realistic protection models.
Because of severe restrictions in other areas, whether that alters permissible levels [of radiation] or not is something that's unclear. You can't know until you do it. [With] the present tendency to go down to zero [acceptable risk], maybe you don't need any permissible levels at all anymore: You just scrub until there's nothing left. Development of a realistic, comprehensive, physiologically more reliable or [more] believable model for every element (all pretty much [the] same shape, [the] same size, [and the] same basic system) would be a valuable contribution.
Then, there's the analysis of the experiments that were designed specifically to study bioeffects. Until you've got good models for the dogs, for their biokinetics, I think the dosimetry that's being used to analyze those bioeffect studies in the dogs are suspect. They're certainly harder to describe and harder to interpret. One of the things that the monkey data do, because they are so complete, is to inform the dog models.
As a statistician once put it, [and] I think this is a valuable lesson in dose-effect relationships, "You can be ever so good at locating and describing effects, but dose is the independent variable." If you don't have a good handle on the independent variable, your dose-response [relationships] are mushy.
The whole business about internal emitters and internal dosimetry is not just valuable for standard setting: It's invaluable for interpreting the internal emitter bioeffects data, or invaluable for predicting the bioeffects of internally deposited radionuclides. Without good dosimetry, you might not have bothered counting tumors.
|FISHER:||What's your perception of the current direction of the Department of Energy [toward resolving] some of these issues?|
|DURBIN:||I don't think they're interested. I think they are working as hard and as fast as they can to eliminate all the nuclide studies, except possibly radon, and as fast as possible.|
|FISHER:||You've seen this evolution over the years. What [has] been the major factor? Is it competing priorities, such as the Juneau Project? Is it a change of personnel?|
|DURBIN:||I'm not sure you could put your finger on a single thing as being a major driving force: Budgets. [Expense. Animal use.] I think a substantial contributor was the general fright of the populace, and DOE and ERDA33 didn't really want to be seen as being participants in something that frightened the populace. I think that's a substantial contributor. As the [U.S.] nuclear power industry goes down, the perceived need for information goes down. I think there's a perception that the standards are so low,34 nothing's going to change anything.|
|FISHER:||New information isn't going to change things?|
|DURBIN:||New information isn't going to do anything. The shift, [to the] Office of Basic Energy Sciences reemphasized and reinforced the notion that the research that OHER should support should be "basic" rather than "applied." I think that the general attitude, particularly about nuclide studies, was that it was applied research and therefore now beneath their dignity.|
|FISHER:||Your mentors and colleagues [beginning with] the 1940s here at Berkeley and at UC [(University of California)] San Francisco were, in large part, physicians who could do human studies, [or] who had done human studies.|
|FISHER:||A number of human studies were done prior to World War II-for example, Dr. Hamilton's, Dr. Stone's, maybe even Dr. Low-Beer's experience working with radiation x rays and the early isotopes, phosphorus and iodine. Were there reasons why these people were interested in the metabolism of radionuclides35 in man, starting with the Manhattan Project36 and continuing afterwards?|
|DURBIN:||I have to answer that long, involved question with a simple word: No. The driving force for the nuclide studies dealing with elements that are not known to be normally utilized by mammals was the need to know [how to predict] the possible outcomes of [people] incorporating fission products and fissionable elements and nuclear-reaction byproducts, specifically for protection purposes. The big thrust, the big studies, began as part of the Manhattan Project Health Group effort to define what the worker hazards would be, to work out techniques to measure nuclide content of workers, specifically for protection purposes, and to determine what the worker protection people were going to be up against with this incredible array of elements, about which almost nothing was known.|
|FISHER:||The physicians selected to work on the secret project, the Manhattan Project, were those who had experience with radiation before [being called]. In almost every case, these physicians had been involved in human experimentation of some form.|
|DURBIN:||Please. The words "human
experimentation" have come, in recent times, to have a very bad odor.
The investigations, which I prefer to call them, investigations among the pre-World War II physicians, who were basically radiologists and physiologists and their successors, had to do with three things. The first thing was the use of radiation as a therapy source, whether external or internal. The second was the understanding of the processes of disease. And the third was diagnosis of the presence and severity of disease.
The first one is radiation therapy, the third one is nuclear medicine, and the second one is physiology37, pathology,38 toxicology,39 or whatever; all those things rolled up together. There were individual investigators who were interested in various aspects of these things.
Hamilton got into the fission-products metabolism business because he was running the 60-inch cyclotron.40 There were no separated fission products: You had to make [radio]isotope[s] of the same elements that had been laid out as "these elements will be present in the fission product mixture." And, you had to make isotopes of those elements on the cyclotron, which is what they did [using] the only transmuting system that was available.
Stone knew Hamilton professionally. He knew he was an enthusiast in terms of the uses of radioisotopes, applications of isotopes. He'd sold a lot of people on the Berkeley campus on the utility to their own research, whatever it might be, of using radioactive tracers. There were detection devices available to Hamilton and the people who worked with him. Detection devices were rare. They were only present in a few laboratories in a few people's hands. It was an absolutely natural match for Stone to go to Hamilton and request that fission products be made on the cyclotron, that their fate in [mammals] be studied in small animals, one by one, in a systematic way. That information would then be used for radiation protection proposes.
When the war was over, that effort was extended to include as many elements in the periodic table as had useful measurable isotopes that could be made, either on the cyclotron or through neutron activation, which then became available, because of the availability of reactors. That body of data, which is severely underpublished, is or was the original base for [measurements and] National Bureau of Standards,41 National Council on Radiation Protection [and Measurements], [and] International Commission on Radiological Protection's guidance books on internal emitters.
The bibliographies and the sources of information for a large number of elements have increased over the years, but the war and postwar work at Crocker Laboratory is still the fundamental foundation of all of this, and apart from a few minor glitches or some modest species-specific alterations, the work stands today as accurate, and as well-conducted as possible under the circumstances that prevailed. That was the single most important contribution that Berkeley Biology or any of the Health Group's biological efforts, possibly apart from Rochester's uranium effort, made to the problems of radiation protection and internal dosimetry.
There were some people when that work was finished, [and] after the periodic table had been more or less complete[d], using rats, who held the view that it wasn't necessary to do anything more, because we had all the information we needed. I think to some degree that's the attitude of the present OHER management, that we have all the information we need.
A lot of it is empirical. We really don't need to know what the mechanism of binding of actinides is in bone. We really don't need to know how actinides get into the liver or how they get out.
My contention and the contention of a few of us stalwarts that are left around, particularly Ray Guilmette and Bruce Boecker at the Inhalation [Toxicology Research] Laboratory in Albuquerque, is that the more you know about your enemy, the better off you are in terms of understanding what's going on. Not only in understanding what's going on, but in providing appropriate countermeasures and in proving appropriate protection models and making appropriate predictions of outcomes, after you've cleaned up sites, or [when] something is leaking from a waste site. It's important to know what the mechanisms are. As a matter of fact, you need to know what the mechanisms are. To some degree, we're still working on that, in our modest way.
|FISHER:||The fact that you were a [biochemistry] postdoctoral student working with physicians limited your experience, thereafter, primarily to animals rather than human studies. You weren't a physician.|
|FISHER:||Your interest was primarily in animal research. Did you do further human studies of any kind in your career thereafter?|
|DURBIN:||I didn't initiate any studies. When Hamilton was still alive, he arranged to have some people, who were going to undergo thyroid surgery, injected with astatine-211.|
|FISHER:||That's coming up [later].|
|DURBIN:||Marshall Parrott and I, and I guess Muriel Johnston, too, as laboratory assistants and helpers.|
|FISHER:||Your doctoral research on fluorine-18 in rats, which I think is remarkable work-did this ever get done in humans? [For example,] did you ever investigate fluorine-18 uptake in [tooth] enamel?|
|DURBIN:||No. Howard Myers, who was at the dental school, might have. I have a fluorine reference file and that reference is in there. He may have done some, whe[n] somebody was going to have a tooth pulled; he may have done it in animals; I don't remember.|
|FISHER:||Is it interesting to you that fluorine-18 is now one of the most widely used isotopes in medicine, [at least] one of the most important for PET42 studies?|
|DURBIN:||It's interesting, yes. I just hope, I suspect, that they have a more efficient way of making it than we did. The things that I'm pleased about, or was pleased about and continue to be pleased about, on the fluorine studies that constituted my Ph.D. thesis, were that we had to devise a way to make the isotope, to make up the targets, to do the simple chemistry, concentrate the material so that it was at an appropriate concentration to do a study and get the animal work done, all in a very short space of time, using relatively crude equipment at every stage. Somebody doing that today would call up and arrange to buy ready-for-injection material and utilize much more efficient, easier-to-use, rapid, semiautomated or automated detection equipment.|
|DURBIN:||Analyzers and all those other good things. We were plowing ground, not just in examining physiologic or biological hypotheses: we also had to be chemists and know enough about the physics of the making of the material to get it made. It was the jack-of-all-trades kind of training.|
|FISHER:||That's what you want for a doctoral dissertation.|
|DURBIN:||I'm not sure that it would pass muster today as a doctoral dissertation.|
|FISHER:||One of your most interesting publications in 1954 [described] the accumulation of astatine-211 by the thyroid gland in man. Do you remember that?|
|FISHER:||The Proceedings of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. Can you talk about that work just a little bit?|
|DURBIN:||Actually, the impetus for that was Hamilton's abiding interest in astatine43 as a potential therapy source.|
|FISHER:||Therapy for thyroid disease?|
|DURBIN:||Yes. Because of the short range of
the alpha particles, which would then spare surrounding tissue from damage and
be very specific for the thyroid. I don't really remember a great deal about the
study itself. It was very straightforward. The individuals were all going to
undergo some kind of thyroid surgery. The astatine was made. It was hustled to
San Francisco [before it had a chance to decay].44
After the thyroid surgery was performed, after the pathologists got their share
of the surgically removed tissue, we got the rest [of] the thyroid. They were
total thyroidectomies in all cases. The tissues were weighed. The pathologist's
fraction was accounted for by weight. The tissue was hurried back to Berkeley. A
small piece was taken for preparation of autoradiograph[s]. Then the rest of it
was radiochemically analyzed for astatine content. Those were the reports; those
were the results that were reported. I'm not sure whether Hamilton was
encouraged or discouraged by the results, but it wasn't pursued.
I'm not certain-I'd have to look at all the injection books and the chronologic sequence of studies-but there were animal studies in progress. The big distribution thyroid uptake in pathology studies in rats. The small accompanying study on thyroidectomy by astatine was in a small number of monkeys.
Another study that was underway, that was done at our place, again using monkeys, [was] done by an ophthalmologist, who was interested in seeing whether the short-range alpha particles could be used effectively if injected into a cyst in the eye, to therapeutically destroy the cyst, without damaging the eye. Astatine was put on to the eyes of monkeys and the ophthalmological outcome was measured. The short-range alpha particles did severe damage to the eyes of the monkeys. I guess he decided not to pursue that. That ended with one paper.
Some additional studies were done in an ongoing sequence, a long sequence of studies was done with astatine in rats, looking at how the animals faired later on after an astatine injection and looking at what the influences on astatine uptake were of manipulating thyroid physiology with propythiouracil45 with protective iodine injections, hormonally altered animals-ovariectomized,46 adrenalectomized,47 hypophysectomized.48 In the long-term effects study, one of the outcomes was a surprising increase [in the] number of breast tumors in the astatine-treated rats (all females), [and] some substantial pituitary49 pathology, [not] real tumors, [but] pituitary hyperplasia.50 Even so, the pituitary being encased in bone, pituitary hyperplasia is very drastic.
Those results rather dampened Hamilton's enthusiasm for the potential use of astatine as a specific [internal radiation] therapy source. That led us, then, to dose calculations based on the distribution and release of astatine from rat tissues, [to] calculat[e] the doses to tissues [other than] the thyroid. We were able to demonstrate that there was, as one would expect, presence [of astatine] in the glandular tissue of the breast, and dose calculations to the breast tissue cells [were] based on that.
|FISHER:||Did you do measurements of activity [in tissue, such as looking for astatine] uptake in breast tissue?|
|DURBIN:||Yes, I think we did. It was not large.|
|FISHER:||Was this effect of breast cancer induction unique to astatine, or did you see this with other alpha emitters51 as well?|
|DURBIN:||We never looked at any other alpha
emitters. We did look at iodine, but I think that this was the initial
demonstration of radiation enhancement of breast tumors in rats. Other
investigators at other places, either because of this or because they were doing
other kinds of radiation studies, made the observation that external radiation
sources produced the same effect. [Chemically,] dibenzanthracine52 could produce the same effect.
The controversy went on for many years. I'm not sure it was ever actually resolved, as to whether it was direct radiation of the breast tissue or whether it was radiation plus alternation of the hormonal cycle of breast increase and regression, as a function of the levels of the estrogenic53 and progestogenic hormones, [which] change during the estrous cycle54 of the rat. But, eventually it was [generally agreed] that it was probably both and that there was a substantial hormonal component. [While] you [destroyed] the thyroid, there was also a substantial direct radiation dose [to] the ovaries. Our astatine-treated animals were essentially radioovariectomized as well as thyroidectomized at the higher doses.
|FISHER:||You published that work on induction of tumors in the rat by astatine-211 in 1958.|
|DURBIN:||The first observations were made about four years earlier.|
|FISHER:||Does this imply in any way that alpha emitters would not be useful for therapy in other forms?|
|DURBIN:||I think there was some work that Chuck Sanders at Battelle published [on] inhaled americium, where he thought he had seen a statistical increase in breast tumors in the [female] rats. These [were rarely] carcinomas,55 [but rather] fibrous adenomas,56 that are hyperplasias, [sometimes] enormous, of the breast tissue. That led us to look at normal animals. We did a long sequence of serial sacrifices of untouched female Sprague-Dawley rats. It involved oocyte57 counts [in] the ovaries, breast tissue sampling, [and] histopathology58 of the pituitary, thyroid, [and] adrenal.59 [We] learned that the outcome of the normal[ly] aging, female Sprague-Dawley rat, is that almost every animal, eventually developed a pituitary hyperplasia and hyperplastic breast. That certainly said that there was a very large hormonal component to th[e] phenomenon.|
|FISHER:||Back on the human study with astatine with Hamilton, do you recall many of the details of the patient aspects of this work?|
|FISHER:||This took place at UC San Francisco.|
|DURBIN:||I don't know any of the details about the patients, except their names, their hospital numbers, their histopathology numbers, and the diagnoses of disease, [which are on file].|
|FISHER:||Was that information retained by you?|
|CAPUTO:||Were there consent forms?|
|DURBIN:||No, not in my files. There might well be in the files in the hospital, but I don't have that.|
|FISHER:||One of the questions with each of these identified experiments, involving the administration of radioactive materials to humans, is [whether] there [was] informed consent. Astatine was an alpha emitter. It was administered presumably as a sodium astatine complex?|
|DURBIN:||Probably sodium astatine.|
|FISHER:||Into the bloodstream?|
|FISHER:||With uptake in the thyroid and perhaps substantial nonthyroid distribution in these patients.|
|DURBIN:||Before it either decayed or was excreted.|
|FISHER:||It has a seven-hour half-life, so it's not going to stay around for very long.|
|DURBIN:||No, and the excretion is very efficient.|
|FISHER:||Very efficient. Was there any interest or follow-up in these patients?|
|DURBIN:||Not to my knowledge.|
|FISHER:||Do you know of any other humans who have been administered sodium astatine?|
|FISHER:||In all of your experiments?|
|DURBIN:||Certainly not here.|
|FISHER:||Was there just one study done of this type?|
|FISHER:||Have you thought about it much since then?|
|DURBIN:||No. Astatine has not been one of my lifelong interests. It's miserable to make and hell to work with.|
|FISHER:||It is being used on a very limited scale as a label for monoclonal antibodies60 in cell-directed therapy. The idea of using an alpha emitter, and particularly astatine-211, is still an [interesting] one, [even] after 40 years.|
|DURBIN:||Yes, but those monoclonal antibodies, if they're injected directly into the circulation, are going to wander around, and every astatine that decays in the circulation is going to deliver the same kind of radiation dose as sodium astatine did or does on its way around.|
|FISHER:||And it tends also to dehalogenate61 from the protein.|
|DURBIN:||I'm not surprised. But the files have been presented to DOE, the names of the people have been made known to them, the existence of the files is known to them. I believe the existence of the files, [is] known to the Human Experiment Investigating Group at UC San Francisco. I'll find out next week if they have this, if they want this. They can go to the warehouse and look for the patient records if they choose to do so.|
|FISHER:||Were those papers in the collection that you recently turned over to DOE? Do you remember?|
|DURBIN:||The contents of three file cabinets [were] copied by the Archives [Department] here at LBL. Those files were in that collection.|
|FISHER:||You continued doing iodine-131 studies in the rats?|
|FISHER:||Even long after you discontinued your astatine work?|
|FISHER:||[Would you] amplify a little on that?|
|DURBIN:||We were interested in the internal
dosimetry of iodine. I'm not sure it shows in the publications, but there was
some anxiety about the use of very large doses of iodine-131 as a therapy agent,
and what the tissue doses might be in other organs and what the biological
outcomes might be in other tissues. This predated, I believe, what groups like
the Medical Internal Radiation Dose group62
eventually tackled for estimating internal doses for something like iodine.
One of the outcomes of at least the dosimetry aspect was that when you gave very large doses, you got very bad outcomes. There was a substantial dosage-related, or radiation dose-related, impact on the longevity and the health of the rats. To a large degree, you had to attribute this to internal radiation of tissues other than the thyroid. You had to attribute it to radiation bioeffects, other than the influence of the thyroid on depressing bone marrow productivity.
What we were trying to do was to sort out the various influences of the hormonal problems which are a consequence of thyroid ablation63 [on the one hand] with iodine and the direct radiation effects on other tissues of iodine decaying in the circulation [on the other hand].
One of the things that came out of this was the demonstration of the cycling of iodine through the gastrointestinal tract, a factor which hadn't really been examined very carefully. A great deal of iodine is secreted, and the gastric secretions are then reabsorbed by the small intestine. Some radiation dose is involved in that. The direct effects on the kidneys, we observed at the high dosages of iodine. Renal64 atrophy65 increased [the relative] quantities of fibrous connective tissue, decreased quantities of tubules,66 and [caused] shrinkage and disappearance of glomeruli,67 [among the] dose-related consequences. There were plainly radiation effects caused by the circulation of iodine in the blood and the secretion of iodine by the GI tract and the excretion of iodine by the kidneys.
|FISHER:||Was mucositis68 one of the effects that you observed?|
|DURBIN:||I don't know that we [called what we] observed by that name. I'd have to go back and look.|
|FISHER:||Because of the reabsorption of iodine in the gastrointestinal tract tissues?|
|DURBIN:||If I remember correctly, and I'd have to go back and look at the paper, I think that in the animals who were long-term survivors, that was not something that caught our attention.|
|FISHER:||Were these all studies in rats, primarily?|
|DURBIN:||Yes, all rats.|
|FISHER:||Did you every involve yourself in human studies of iodine toxicity?|
|FISHER:||Do you wish that you had?|
|DURBIN:||No. Under the present circumstances, I'm grateful I didn't.|
|FISHER:||I noticed that about as early as 1960, maybe even before that time, you were interested in complexing agents.|
|DURBIN:||It wasn't me, [as] much as it was the people that I worked with.|
|FISHER:||For example? I was thinking of-if I'm not mistaken, your first publication dealing with a chelating or complexing agent was about 1961 with curium-242. Had you worked with DTPA69 or EDTA70 before that time?|
|DURBIN:||No. But this is an interesting piece of history and I'd like to incorporate it [here] because I believe in giving credit where credit is due. In the early 1950s, a physician named Harry Foreman came to the Crocker Laboratory as, I guess, a postdoctoral fellow. He had come across-I've never been quite sure of how it was that he came across it-he had come across the existence of an interesting compound called versene. It was a proprietary agent that was made by the Bersworth Chemical Company. Maybe he knew Mr. Bersworth. In any case, he came with this versene, which we all know as EDTA, ethylene diaminetetraacetic acid. He began looking at the complexes that [it] formed with curium. There was a substantial amount of interest at that point in fission-product and actinide removal therapy, because there was nothing available. He began some experiments with removing plutonium. I've looked up the date of the publication. It was 1950.|
|FISHER:||What's the citation? 1950?|
|FISHER:||What publication? Where is it?|
|DURBIN:||The first citation was in UCRL
Progress Report, Number 960. Then he and Hamilton published a paper in 1952,
I guess it was; I don't know the date. There's another one and again, UCRL
Report 1351, in 1951, called "The Use of Chelating Agents for
Accelerating Excretion of Radioelements." Then, after he left, Hamilton and
[Kenneth] Scott engaged in some studies of the ability of EDTA to remove
plutonium from rats. That piece that you refer to, which is part of, I believe,
a UCRL Progress Report, [the] curium citation was a follow-on to see
whether or not EDTA could be used for actinides other than plutonium.
We didn't get very good results. You could demonstrate that there was some complexation71, but the results in terms of body actinides were not dramatic. You could certainly increase the excretion, but the [amount] that you increased [the excretion] was not large enough to have a dramatic effect on total actinide retention. Therefore it wasn't really going to be very useful in reducing total radiation dose.
That work kind of just quietly died. Kenneth Scott severed his ties with Crocker [Laboratory], in the general neighborhood of 1952, 1953. He still came over and he was still a participant in some things, but he basically moved his operations to San Francisco, where he took a tenured position, setting up and running their radioisotopes laboratory.
|DURBIN:||Hamilton's real interests were
radiotherapy and medical diagnostic techniques. That led Hamilton back to
astatine and iodine, in preference to a lot of other matters, although he still
maintained a lively interest in some things that some other people were doing,
such as examining autoradiographically the differences in distribution of, say,
actinides and lanthanides72 on
the one hand and strontium on the other hand in bony structures, like the
junction of the cartilages73 in
the rib, to see whether or not one of these was so mineral oriented that you
would see it in the mineralized cartilage core, or whether you saw it only on
the interior of bone surfaces.
That work was being conducted with another Ph.D., Harold Copp, who was at that time a professor of Physiology at Berkeley and later left to become the chairman of the Physiology Department at the Medical School of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver[, British Columbia, Canada]. [There was] also another M.D. who was an anatomist, who had a great deal of specialization in bone, C. Willard Asling, who was in the Anatomy Department at UC Berkeley, [but] when the first year [of] the medical school was moved to San Francisco, he moved to San Francisco and our association essentially disappeared. He started us out looking at the skeletal x rays of monkey[s] [to] determin[e] age.
The only thing I wanted to say about Hamilton's attitude about things was that he was not an experimentalist in the way we now view experimentalists. He didn't latch onto a topic and pursue it to some sort of conclusion, even though to do that [(to explore a variety of avenues)] meant the conduct of a great deal of work and sometimes the pursuit of side issues. Although, I guess you could say that the astatine and iodine studies were more [of an effort] to look at something in-depth. But, he said on several occasions that what he liked to do was "get in there early and skim off the cream and then go on to something else." I remember [his saying something like that] when he was very ill and sitting in his office.
|FISHER:||He was ill with?|
|DURBIN:||Leukemia. Aleukemic myeloid leukemia, which meant that he [had] a large number of circulating undeveloped cells, or incomplete cells. It meant that both his total myeloid74 white count and red count were just gradually disappearing. His marrow was full of these stem cells, but they weren't maturing and nothing was being delivered to the circulation.|
|CAPUTO:||Let's change courses for a second. What do you know about the decompression studies at Donner Laboratory?|
|DURBIN:||Only that they took place. One of the women at Crocker, I'm not sure [if] she was employed at Crocker at the time those studies were being done, or whether she came to us after they were underway. Anyway, she was one of the subjects in the decompression studies. She volunteered to be a subject.|
|CAPUTO:||What was the relationship between Donner and LBL?|
|DURBIN:||Well, LBL didn't exist at the time.
It was the University of California Radiation Laboratory which was under the
general management and auspices of the Physics Department on the campus. [The
lab was a] creature of the Physics Department.
Donner Laboratory was fundamentally a locus for people who were interested in nuclear medicine, human physiology, decompression studies, iron metabolism [in] health and disease. There [were] some burn studies, the clinic where the 32P [(phosphorus-32)] was used to treat leukemia and polycythemia.75
Crocker housed the 60-inch cyclotron, and laboratory space for chemical preparations of materials made in the cyclotron and for the conduct of experiments using isotopes and so on. The 60-inch [cyclotron] was a separate administrative and financial entity, but the funding for the Crocker experiments, the chemistry, the making of targets, the follow-on biology, and so on was AEC-funded.
Joe Hamilton and John Lawrence were sort of adversaries [(directors of the Crocker and Donner Laboratories, respectively)]. I don't know why they should have been because each one had a different sphere. John Lawrence was basically a promoter of nuclear medicine aspects and Hamilton was the manager of the cyclotron. [Hamilton was] caught up in vast numbers of Government consultative bodies and committees, advisory groups to several Government agencies, and [he] did a great deal of traveling and met a lot of luminaries and consulted at the highest levels of Government.
But Hamilton still wanted to remember some of the glory days of the first demonstration of utility of iodine as a diagnostic agent for thyroid disease and some of the other early great stuff. He did want to go back into experimentation having to do with astatine and iodine and so on.
What went on at Crocker and what went on at Donner were administratively and intellectually totally separate. They were two islands, really. Apart from the fact that the directors of the two laboratories sat together as codirectors of the group on bio- and medical physics, which was the degree-conferring arm of the Physics Department, I don't know that they even communicated much. They may have communicated a great deal more than I was aware of, but I got the feeling that there was not an awful lot of interaction.
|FISHER:||Didn't the Donner Lab depend on isotopes from the cyclotron?|
|DURBIN:||For a while. But, they began to get things like [radio]iron from Oak Ridge, and I'm not sure what their 32P source was. But, large quantities of 32P were not made on the 60-inch cyclotron for very long after I went to work there in 1946. Possibly, by 1948, some other source for their 32P had been developed.|
|FISHER:||Were you part of the organization when Hamilton was working on his studies on zirconium, niobium, and other materials were produced?|
|DURBIN:||You mean the fission-product work?|
|DURBIN:||No. The basic fission product work was completed by about mid-1944.|
|FISHER:||This is part of MED [Manhattan Engineer District].|
|DURBIN:||Yes. And in February of 1944, the
first plutonium source arrived and, from looking at the data files in
chronologic order, it appears that there was almost no additional
fission-product work from February of 1944 until after the war was over in 1946.
The great push was on plutonium: injected plutonium, orally administered
plutonium to a very small degree, plutonium in different forms, all in rats; the
development of the technique[s] for cutting [un-]decalcified bone [and making]
autoradio graph[s], [and plutonium] inhalation studies, huge quantities of
small- scale inhalation studies with rats, which formed [much of] the basis for
[the first] ICRP-NCRP76 lung
But, I suspect that there were fission-product studies, at least injections that had to have gone on in that time frame, because the sliding microtome77 for making the un-decalcified bone sections and production of slides of element 61, promethium, and zirconium and cerium may have been made in the 1944-to-1946 frame.
|CAPUTO:||Would these be in animals or in man?|
|DURBIN:||All animals. All work is animals, unless otherwise specified. All in rats, unless otherwise specified. There seems to be some sort of notion out there that there were thousands of people injected with all kinds of stuff to gain this information. We had one tiny animal room. It would hardly keep 50 rats in it, much less the population of a small city.|
|FISHER:||Some of the early results of that work showed that the [plutonium] excretion rates in workers at Chicago weren't well predicted by the animal data here at Berkeley. We've seen reference to notes and memoranda stating that the worker bioassay78 was not well predicted by the animal data on plutonium metabolism coming out of Berkeley, which may have been one of the reasons leading to the first plutonium injection studies, which we want to move into here pretty quick[ly].|
|DURBIN:||Well, I'm not quite sure what the basis [is] for that statement. Because, if you don't know what the content of the worker's body is, and you don't know when that content was acquired, how is anything going to predict the excretion pattern? The point was, they had no notion about what their excretion pattern ought to look like.|
|FISHER:||The cage design?|
|DURBIN:||The cage design was so faulty. In the
course of years since then, very few cage designs have come down that are very
much better. The problem was you had fecal flakes in what was supposed to be the
urine sample, and you had urine percolating through the fecal pellets. You could
have cross- contamination in both directions. Anybody who knew about the
uncertainties of collecting animal excreta would have been, really, pretty
remiss if they used that information flat-out to predict what was in a person or
even in [a] dog, or in any other animal.
Apart from the Berkeley data there was a little excretion data from mice, very little. We know now that the mice are even poorer predictors [of human plutonium excretions] than rats are. There was a small amount of information from rabbits, very small. They're a little bit easier to collect clean urine from. There [was] a small amount of information from dogs, a handful of dogs, given lethal doses of plutonium.
One of the things that the radium-223 studies demonstrated, one of the things that the iodine studies in rats demonstrated, and that subsequently some of the isotope studies that were conducted at the University of Utah in dogs demonstrated, [is] that when you get a high enough dosage, either in terms of chemical mass, or in terms of acute radiation exposure, you alter the tissues that either bind the radioactive element or that excrete it, so you alter the overall metabolism, [and] you alter the excretion rates.
In retrospect, again, putting reliance on the findings of these toxic level studies in dogs would have been a mistake. It wasn't until the [middle] 1950s, when the first publications came out of the plutonium studies in Utah, that really good, reliable plutonium excretion information became available for the first three weeks in a dog.
The other problem with the animal data, as of circa early 1945, was that animal excretions are hard to handle in terms of laboratory manipulation. The bulk is large. The equipment that was available for reducing things to ash was small. For plutonium analyses, you had to get rid of the mass of the sample. You had to clean the material up, get it in a clean acid solution, so you could extract [plutonium] and put it in as close to massless form as you could for accurate alpha [emission] determinations.
The presence of phosphates, the presence of calcium phosphate in particular that's in all fecal matter, is a substantial interferer. The presence of dietary iron present in the fecal matter is a substantial chemical interferer with all the processes that were then available to extract plutonium from samples. The problem[s] [were] difficult collections, very difficult preparation procedures for the samples, [and] difficult and quite unreliable analytical chemical procedures.
The detectors were pretty good, actually. The problem was not with the detectors but the pressure for time.
You can detect a small amount of plutonium in a flat planchette79 with an old-fashioned detector if you can let it sit there for 24 hours, but they had a lot of samples, and they had very few detectors. So [with that] pressure you could count it only for a maximum of five minutes, or ten minutes if you were looking for [better] statistics. The net result of [all] that is that it raises your level of detectability substantially.
And, then, in the animal experiments [when] the total [plutonium] dosages were not large, they began to run into problems where their samples were equivalent to background: They couldn't make a distinction between the sample and background. The excretion rate had dropped below zero-it had dropped below the detection limit. It wasn't zero, but it had dropped below their detection limit.
All of these factors militated against doing long-term continuous excretion collections and doing them in more than one or two animals. Even [so], there was a lot of toxicology. There were a lot of animals involved in metabolic studies, [and] a number [of investigations] just struggl[ing] to figure out how [to] prepare the plutonium [to be] injected and [to] inject it [to] get believable reproducible, reliable results. That took an enormous amount of time and effort.
The whole thing meant that there weren't very many animal samples and the ones that there were [were] at least open to major suspicion. I suspect that the Health Group physicians who called for human data under those circumstances were probably well within scientific bounds of not having anything that they in their hearts believed they could rely on.
|FISHER:||Those in the Medical Corps who requested human data on plutonium metabolism?|
|DURBIN:||Yes. There was a meeting in May of 1945. The proceedings are published in Document CN 3167-I think I even memorized the number of it. [They] made a list of the most important things we need to know about plutonium biology. Good analytical techniques, reliable ways to analyze human urine and feces, and a solid correlation between intake and excretion versus time for man are the things that they [put] at the top of their priority list.|
|FISHER:||It looks like it was about August or September of 1944 before Wright Langham felt confident in his techniques for analyzing plutonium in urine and feces at the [accuracy] levels needed to do a human study.|
|DURBIN:||Or to do adequate bioassays of laboratory personnel material.|
|FISHER:||In 1972, as part of the "Plutonium in Man" book.|
|DURBIN:||It's The Radiobiology of Plutonium.|
|FISHER:||That's right. [Published by] J.W. Press.|
|DURBIN:||[Betsy] Stover and [Webster] Jee's book.|
|FISHER:||You brought to light the old data on the plutonium injection studies. What was it that prompted you to get involved in reanalyzing the data from the human plutonium injection studies?|
|DURBIN:||Like a lot of other things in the science, the pathway was neither clear nor was it direct.|
|FISHER:||But something motivated you.|
|DURBIN:||[It was a] combination of
circumstances. The first circumstance was the development of sodium iodide
crystal detection systems, which were determined to be able to detect quite low
levels of the 60-kilovolt gamma rays from 241Am [(americium-241)]. By that time,
it had become plain that there were very few instances in which a worker had
acquired some form or isotonic mixture of plutonium that didn't have some 241Am
in it, or that, given time, the 241Am wouldn't grow into it.
We had already started, in 1960, investigations of the metabolism of americium in monkeys. We began to have a data collection of americium metabolism in what's called a big animal. The question that was posed was: "Given what we know about plutonium, and given what we know about americium, can we use the americium gamma rays as a reliable indicator of internal plutonium contamination?" Because we can't measure the plutonium x rays, which are too soft,80 at the level need [ed], to be able to measure down to the permissible lung content.
|DURBIN:||According to my usual bad habit,
rather than write out a small memo saying, "These things look a great deal
alike and, even though the americium excretion rate is ten times the plutonium
rate, ten times a very small number is still a very small number, so the
americium content of the body probably isn't going down all that much faster. If
material that was inhaled"-since we were particularly interested in
inhalation-"if the material that was inhaled was highly insoluble, [and]
you would expect the americium to stay in the insoluble mixture, go ahead, use
the americium gamma rays as a stand-in."
But, [motivated by] pride, uncertainty, curiosity, [or] whatever, I embarked on what amounted to a major research effort to collect all the information that I could find on americium metabolism in any species and plutonium metabolism in any species. For probably the first time, I went to the files.
I knew about the existence of the human plutonium studies, but I'd never pursued or examined the results or been particularly interested in [them, at least partly] because we had been trying for years to get away from working with plutonium and americium. We wanted to learn how bone works.
The imposition of the americium study in 1960 was something that we bridled at and were very unhappy about. We were jolly well not going to get back into the plutonium business. I hadn't really been a student of that data set, although I knew it existed. I knew that one of the individuals had been followed at Berkeley, [from] little remarks and casual bits of conversation. It was no secret. I availed myself of the laboratory's copy of the original LA-1151 document and began to not only study it, but to dissect it and reexamine it and look at all the numbers.
I'm on record in NCRP meetings very early on as being morally opposed to using double logarithmic plots to do anything, because they're noninformative. The human data were there [in LA-1151], shown by individuals, and their blood data were there shown by individuals. What's shown in terms of outcome? This gigantic, single line with all these little spots. And a logarithmic equation. I say: this is not informative. I began the process of plotting the data. Then, having done that, writing a preliminary report about excretion rates and so on.
|FISHER:||Was this work supported by AEC at the time?|
|FISHER:||You had a grant?|
|DURBIN:||We were on a continuum.|
|FISHER:||So, it was a "lab discretion" activity?|
|DURBIN:||It was an "investigator discretion" activity.|
|CAPUTO:||What was their reaction to you doing this work?|
|DURBIN:||They didn't even know I was doing it. They didn't care. Nobody followed what I was doing. I wasn't being given directions. I was a PI [(Principal Investigator)]. I operated basically on my own initiative, as I always have. I got a little bit of direction here and there [about] big issues, but what I chose to do in terms of my time and my effort were a great deal [at] my own discretion. I was responding to an AEC request. And I didn't feel it was necessary to go to the laboratory management and say, "AEC has asked me to study this matter, is it okay with you?" They would have said, "Go away, don't bother me."|
|CAPUTO:||Have you ever seen the letter that refers to the fact that you felt that the AEC didn't want the data revealed? It's a 1971 memo.|
|DURBIN:||I'd already started this. That was my opinion. They hadn't said they didn't. It was still under the Official Use Only category. I hadn't gotten [report] LA-1151 declassified yet. Maybe I was running against the grain; maybe I was doing something they didn't want me to do.|
|CAPUTO:||Did you meet resistance, though?|
|DURBIN:||No, not really, no. When I took it to Chet Richmond,81 that we should get this document declassified, he went to John Totter82 and, eventually, it was declassified.|
|DURBIN:||I don't think I did anything wrong.|
|CAPUTO:||No, I didn't mean to imply that you did.|
|DURBIN:||But, I had a great deal of independence. I was given a long leash. (tape interrupted) fit very well, when I'd plot them out.|
|FISHER:||Particularly [the] long-term [excretion component].|
|DURBIN:||The individual points, and there were some questions. One of the questions was, "To whom did those long-term points belong?" Plainly, those people didn't die right away.|
|FISHER:||They were pooled data.|
|DURBIN:||There were three or four long-term
individual points, which were noted in the text. I was interested in trying to
recapitulate the bone data.
I began a kind of correspondence and friendly interchange with Wright Langham, asking him questions about these. Could he identify whether it was HP-3 or HP-6 that belonged to this point and this point, and did they have ash weights on the bone samples? He said he couldn't remember. He thought maybe they did on some, but that the notebooks were so buried, he really didn't want to go hunt for them, because it was going to be a horrendous task.
I went down there [to Los Alamos National Laboratory], and I don't know whether I went there deliberately for that purpose alone, or whether I was there for some other reason. We spent some time talking about it. He seemed, at the time, pleased that somebody had essentially volunteered to take this off his back. He wanted to get his laboratory doing cell sizing and more refined dosimetry and get into inhalation studies and into mechanisms of radiation sensitivity. He wanted to get out of the plutonium business. He was tired of it, just as we had been tired of it earlier on. He was tired of being "Mr. Plutonium" and getting called on in the middle of the night whenever anybody spilled a test tube or something like that.
He seemed rather pleased that I wanted to do this, and he identified who [the long-term points were]. I kept him abreast of how the data analysis [was] going.
In the meantime, there was an invitation to be a participant in the program at Utah celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their project. As long as I was at it, I thought to myself, since this [(the Utah Project)] was [a] plutonium project, and it was designed to provide information on radiation protection [aspects] of plutonium in people, what better venue could offer itself for a revisiting of the human plutonium data than this volume? At that point, I think, I asked to have all of Joe Hamilton's files reclaimed from storage and that all the classified stuff be declassified, which took a long time, and there was another reason for this too. About that time, we had already moved out of Crocker.
There was a point (maybe my chronology is out of sync), when the 60-inch cyclotron was shutting down and the Crocker building was about to be demolished, that there was a big effort to draw together all of the 60-inch [cyclotron] archives and to draw together Hamilton's contributions having to do with the 60-inch [cyclotron]. That may have been the time when I had all the stuff declassified; it could have been.
Anyway, I certainly reviewed everything that was there at that point, because I wanted to make chronologic[al] sequence of the first animal studies. I wanted to find out what the impetus for those animal studies was and whose idea it was.
|FISHER:||Whose idea was it to-|
|DURBIN:||-to [do] animal studies and [whose
idea was it] that they be [done] at Berkeley? Because I was convinced, knowing
Joe Hamilton and knowing his attachment to the 60-inch machine. The first
weighable plutonium sample was made on the 60-inch machine, the first plutonium
that was identifiable was made on the 60-inch machine, and Hamilton had been
part of the crew that had been responsible for the making, [and] for the
producing. He had been engaged in tracer studies previously on neptunium, on
actinium, on protactinium,83
and on thorium, some available from natural sources. The neptunium [was] made on
the 60-inch cyclotron. The next plain logical step was plutonium, the minute it
became available, to fit into this matrix.
What I was looking for was some documentation that would say, in a memo signed by Joe Hamilton to Glenn Seaborg and to Stone, saying something like, "Pretty soon Site X is going to have product available for us to study, can you give us some to study so we'll get going?" And, then, Seaborg wrote a letter [in reply]. I don't think Seaborg's letter was written completely out of his own head. I think it was at the instigation of Hamilton and Stone. Seaborg being in the operations and production loop would have the authority and the influence to see that this was done. It was logical for them to go to him.
I never found any documentation to [that] effect, but I can't believe that Joe Hamilton wasn't the instigator of getting that material here to work on.
It was part of that search, going through a lot of that stuff, that led me to search through the files and discover that along with Cal-1,84 which I expected to find, there were these other cases. And, there was bone data for them.
I was interested in looking at what was available. I was also interested in discovering whether or not-because UC San Francisco is a teaching hospital [and] these were all cancer cases-whether any tissue blocks, or by any remote chance a bone specimen left in fixative, [were] in their archival materials collection, [so that] we could get some and do a modern radioanalysis and make an autoradiograph. I introduced myself to the authorities at UC San Francisco and went to play detective, I think, with the help of Earl Miller,85 who was still actively practicing medicine at the time.
|DURBIN:||It was at that point, I think, that I
learned that California Case 3 [(Cal-3)] was still living, because he was part
of the Tumor Registry. His personal physician [was] reporting his status every
five years to the tumor registry and there was a recent entry.
I was also interested in the possibility, because Robley Evans (I'm sort of a mimic, I guess) had had some radium-case skeletons exhumed for the measurement of the radium content. I thought, "Gee, wouldn't that be a really useful thing?" Because it would define for us, not only how much was in the human skeleton after a known quantity was injected, early on to give us T-zero86 values for the whole skeleton, but it would give us what the initial distribution is within the different bones.
By that time the americium in the monkey skeleton was telling us that there was a substantial variability [in the deposition] in the different bones and in the different parts of bones. This was an opportunity to gain some enormously valuable information.
So, I went off to Santa Rosa, [because] I knew where California One [(Cal-1)] had [lived]. I poured through their death records until I found his death certificate. I was astounded.
He lived twenty years after the plutonium injection. I learned that he had been cremated and where his ashes were located.
Like a drunk or a gambler, a little bit whets your appetite. I then proceeded to move afield and make inquiries at the University of Rochester and identify individuals, look for death certificates, learn about longevity, learn where people had been buried. I went to Chicago and identified two of the three people there,87 [but] never did identify the third one. I found out where they were buried and got their death certificates.
All of this [was] going on and I'm saying to AEC, informally and in the form of letters, "Look, there's a valuable information source out there. We need to tell the people who are still living what went on and get their permissions for some additional samples, initiate a follow-up, get some additional excretion samples, maybe get permission for an autopsy when they die, like the Transuranium Registry,88 list them in the registry."
Very naïve, I guess. Go about telling the relatives of the people who are deceased, so we can exhume some bodies and get some bone samples and get some data. I proposed that we headquarter it at Berkeley. I'm always looking for something new to do that will ensure me and the people that work for me employment for the next ten or fifteen years. We all do that.
The management here at Berkeley took a dim view. The free speech movement was already behind us, [but] there were student demonstrators. The then-director, James Born, bless his soul, a [real] gentleman, said, "I just don't think we should do this here. I can envision a riot of students clamoring around Donner Laboratory screaming at us because we're involved in experiments dealing with plutonium."
I guess the AEC management felt the same way. I had some conversations with Bob Rowland,89 who was then the Director of the Center for Human Radiobiology [at Argonne Laboratory]. I reluctantly agreed, if he was willing to do something more, to hand over all my stuff to Rowland and the Center for Human Radiobiology and let them follow on if they could. And so, whatever other follow-ons [that] were done, were done there. We identified all but [one of the injected] people.
|FISHER:||You found [that] some [of the subjects were] still alive?|
|FISHER:||Did you meet them, talk to them?|
|FISHER:||[Was their urine] still being sampled for plutonium?|
|DURBIN:||Two, [I think], of the individuals were brought into the Center for Human Radiobiology at some point.|
|DURBIN:||By Rowland and [John] Rundo.|
|CAPUTO:||Were they told why?|
|DURBIN:||I can't tell you that, because I don't know. I'm given to understand that they were not.|
|CAPUTO:||Do you know how the original plutonium injectees were chosen for the injections?|
|DURBIN:||Not really, no. My guess, (it may be better than some people's, but it's about the same) is that the San Francisco cases, [and] the three Chicago cases, were individuals who were diagnosed with [and died soon of] terminal cancer. The [Chicago cases] all, as far as I know, died shortly after the injections, within months. [Among] the three individuals who were injected at Berkeley, the two later ones are, in my judgment, not part, and never were intended to be part, of the [larger] plutonium excretion study. There are no excretion samples for them. One is a four- year-old boy, and that hardly is informative with respect to adult workers. We'll talk about that separately in a moment. The three Berkeley cases, at [the] time the injections were made, were either pre-surgery or pre-biopsy. The three individuals had been diagnosed by their physicians, [by] independent diagnosticians, by the pathologists who looked at any tissue material as having either a terminal or a very severe and likely soon-to-be terminal cancer. I can't say anything about the Rochester group, because I know nothing about that.|
|CAPUTO:||Some people think that they just wanted a fast bone sample and that was the real driving criterion on it, more than terminally ill. Have you heard that?|
|CAPUTO:||I heard that when we met with [representatives from] University of California San Francisco.|
|FISHER:||Some of these had amputations scheduled.|
|DURBIN:||That's right; we're going to talk
about that later. But, by the time Cal-3 was injected, the data from the bone
samples [of some of] the other injected people, [from] whom autopsies [were
obtained,] were already available to "those who needed to know." There
was no need for a "quick" bone sample. The[re] [were] data from the
first two Chicago cases, [and] the bone data from one of those became available
very early on.
California Cases 2 and 3, and an americium injection case also in San Francisco, [were, according to] my best reading of the events, based on an experimental pattern [that] leads me to believe they were looking for what ha[s] [been] described as a "magic bullet." They were looking for an internal irradiation therapy source, that could be given by injection, instead of [by] implanting needles; that would provide intense localized radiation for the suppression of bone cancer or metastases90 of other cancers to the skeleton.
Here's a group of people who are acquaintances, [and] colleagues, [who] had been working together for a number of years. Some [were] actively engaged in the Radiology Department, some [were] in the endocrine91 area. Joe Hamilton ha[d] a radiochemical analytical facility. He [had] access to isotopes.
This [was a] cooperative venture, [which] began with Charles Pecher, before the U.S. got into World War II. [Pecher was] an investigator who came to Crocker and worked [for a while]. They made strontium-89, [and] phosphorus-32. Some patients were [treated who had bone cancers or] metastatic cancer to the skeleton, [among them] the famous case with [strontium-89 in] the amputated leg.
Pecher demonstrated the localization of strontium in [bone and] rather nicely demonstrated the microlocalization of strontium in tumorous bone and in the normal bone adjacent to it. [He] demonstrated that the internal radiation from the 32P and from strontium-89 was at least palliative in suppressing bone pain and in suppressing the progress of the disease.
So, after Pecher left, some of the people who had worked with him in San Francisco, [Anne] Treadwell, [Bert] Low-Beer, [Hymer] Friedell,92 and another one whose name I don't remember, proceeded to do a series of strontium injections of individuals who'd been diagnosed with bone cancer and were either going to have an amputation or there was going to be a bone biopsy [of a] tumor located in an inoperable site. Samples were taken of tumorous bone and adjacent normal bone and soft tissue. The analytical results are presented. The basic purpose of these investigations [was this:] To discover whether there is enough difference in the deposition, [or] concentration in the tumorous tissue. Is it enough higher than the deposition in the adjacent bone, or in the soft tissue in the neighborhood, so that you can deliver a radiation dose that's going to be useful and significant without risking very high radiation levels to the adjacent tissue, to the whole skeleton?
|FISHER:||In other words, is the concentration in fast-growing tumor tissue higher than in normal bone?|
|DURBIN:||Right, is it enough higher.|
|FISHER:||Right, to provide a therapeutic measure.|
|DURBIN:||Enough higher to provide therapeutic radiation without doing [unacceptable] damage, either to adjacent [bone] tissue [and] soft tissues [or to tissues] that would be irradiated by strontium that had distributed throughout the whole skeleton.|
|FISHER:||Do you believe that was a question that applied to the plutonium injection cases at UCSF93 as well?|
|FISHER:||Looking for a therapeutic ratio with plutonium?|
|FISHER:||Were these patients for which excretion data were not collected?|
|FISHER:||Which would lend support to that conclusion.|
|DURBIN:||Let me go on. Meanwhile, animal
[autoradiographic] data demonstrated that there was a lot less plutonium
associated with the mineral part of the skeleton and a lot more on surfaces.
That meant that when it concentrated, it really concentrated. Based on data in
rats, it [also] appeared that the extra skeletal plutonium was rapidly
eliminated. The part that went to the liver was [eliminated] in a matter of
days, so that what didn't go to the skeleton was not going to constitute a major
long-term radiation source to any other tissue.
Then, there was a [thesis] study performed by a graduate student of Hamilton's associate Harold Copp, Lester Van Middlesworth, in which he made an incision in the calf-the lower portion of the hind leg of a rat-exposed the fibula, which is the tiny bone, and snipped it, [and] closed the wound. After about three days, he gave [some of] these animals an intravenous injection of plutonium and some others an intravenous injection of strontium. Then, periodically, he killed the animals and measure[d] the plutonium in the broken fibula that was now healing and in the intact one. What he found was that the strontium concentrations in this regenerating tissue were higher than in the normal tibia. But in the plutonium case, the plutonium concentrations in the reorganizing bone tissue were enormously elevated over either the adjacent bone or the intact fibula. Bingo. You've got bone undergoing deterioration and regeneration, and the plutonium really likes that bone.
I think that those [findings] were probably [an] essential [incentive to] look at people with bone cancer. At least, looking at California Case[s] [2 and] 3 and at the [americium case]. I think the chronology of the boy, from Australia [(Case 2)], is out of sync, but it's part of the general pattern. It's my judgment that somehow, somebody in Australia, at the pleading of the family [of] the little boy who's got this terrible disease, has read [the] Treadwell paper and then somehow communicates with the people in San Francisco and tells [the family] that there's a new and maybe magical treatment on the great mainland in the United States, like going to a Swiss clinic.
|FISHER:||For a disease that cannot be treated-|
|DURBIN:||-For a disease that can't be cured or
can't be treated anyplace else. They've got this prospective treatment. With
great ceremony the kid is flown to San Francisco. They give him injections of
strontium and cerium and plutonium to see whether one of those three will give a
favorable concentration ratio. What they discovered was that none of them did.
Imagine telling the distraught mother, "We've done the testing, and we don't think any of the materials that we have in our hands will do anything." So, they go home.
But, there is no way that case can be construed as not having informed consent. They came of their own volition, and they came and the mother was there all the time. So, I think.
|FISHER:||Did he die soon thereafter?|
|DURBIN:||Yes, within a few months, of widely disseminated metastatic bone cancer. But, [when] he came to San Francisco, they weren't absolutely [certain] it was bone cancer. They did a biopsy in San Francisco, and the materials that were analyzed were from the biopsy. There was not an amputation.|
|FISHER:||This was a boy of Chinese heritage?|
|DURBIN:||No, this was an Australian boy.|
|FISHER:||You were going to talk a little bit about the Chinese [ancestry] subject.|
|DURBIN:||The americium subject. Here again, he
is a young man, and he has an uncle. The young man speaks no English, the uncle
speaks very little English. The uncle is the guardian. The young man comes down
with [a] terrible illness. The Chinese hospital performs still, certainly did
then, the invaluable function of having medical care and Chinese-speaking
personnel. The uncle is distraught and in some way connects with the people at
UC San Francisco who, I think, ask him if he's willing to have his nephew
participate in this test. I guess he said yes. The amputation of the leg has
already been scheduled. So, the injection is made, the leg is amputated, [and]
bone samples were obtained [along with] excretion samples for a few days.
I haven't done anything with that data file, and I'm not sure that I ever can, because the recordkeeping is so murky [it is almost] impenetrable. The analytical techniques used were, for the dosage administered, inadequate to the test. It would be days of hard labor to try to bring that file into understandable shape. I've never had the urge or the impetus to do it, [but] I'm probably the only one who could. The recording system is roughly the same as it was for all the rat studies, and I can read those.
|FISHER:||We're not able to interview Wright Langham, but you did.|
|DURBIN:||In some way.|
|FISHER:||You went down and talked to him.|
|FISHER:||In seeking information from him, and, as a well-known scientist offering to help do some analysis, did he share with you some of the motivations for the early plutonium injections? Did he express-|
|DURBIN:||-No, it was just a fact that it [had] happened, and we were now going to go on from there.|
|FISHER:||Did he express any regrets that [the plutonium injections] had taken place?|
|DURBIN:||Not in my hearing.|
|FISHER:||Did he express any--|
|DURBIN:||-His only regret was that he had gotten tagged with this, and it was like an albatross around his neck; he couldn't get rid of it.|
|FISHER:||Did he describe any other motivations for doing these [experiments] the way they were done when they were done?|
|FISHER:||[Did he discuss] who was in charge?|
|FISHER:||[Did he discuss] who suggested it initially, or who was in charge?|
|FISHER:||This would have been an interesting question to ask him, but you probably weren't interested in that.|
|DURBIN:||I'm not sure I was in a position even to ask if I'd thought to ask.|
|DURBIN:||I was in a sense a special pleader. He was a truly established scientist, and I was still floundering around. I felt sort of humble. It's not for the humble to go asking the established scientist or the group leader or the director of the division of a national laboratory about the motivations for this and that.|
|FISHER:||Did he seem reluctant to deal with this project?|
|DURBIN:||No, but he seemed relieved that somebody else was going to take it over.|
|FISHER:||Did he offer you his laboratory notebooks?|
|DURBIN:||Not really, no. He said that they were so deeply buried that he just didn't feel that he wanted to go to the trouble of locating them.|
|FISHER:||He was the recipient of almost all the [plutonium] excretion data. He analyzed it.|
|DURBIN:||[His laboratory] analyzed all the samples that were obtained from the twelve HP cases.|
|FISHER:||So he had a lot of information and data.|
|DURBIN:||That's right, and it has subsequently all been unearthed. It was not easy to find. They had to go through several hundred notebooks. The notebooks were not in sequence. They're numbered, but there's no catalog of what's in each or what they belong to. Apparently, every notebook at Los Alamos [National Laboratory] had to be examined to discover who it belonged to and what was in it.|
|FISHER:||Do you feel like you found the information you needed for your analysis?|
|DURBIN:||I would always have been happier with more.|
|FISHER:||Of what existed, did you feel like you had found what you were looking for?|
|DURBIN:||I figured I'd found everything there was. One of the things that I found was that there was a mislabeling of one of the Chicago cases. The number attached to it was not correct. Other than that, as far as I was concerned, it was [sufficiently] complicated, time-consuming, and there was a lot of material to work with. But, I was always looking for more if there were more to be had.|
|FISHER:||You've mentioned Lester Van Middlesworth. Was he associated with Vanderbilt [University in Tennessee] at one time?|
|DURBIN:||I'm not sure, but I think most of his career was spent in the University of Tennessee.|
|FISHER:||That's right, at UT. That's after he left Berkeley?|
|DURBIN:||Yes, he left Berkeley in about 1946 or '47.|
|FISHER:||Recollections of Dr. Low-Beer?|
|DURBIN:||I can just vaguely recall what he looked like. He wasn't at Berkeley very often. As a matter of fact, it was rare. I think the one time I did see him was when he wrote a book. I [have it on] the shelf. Yes, The Clinical Use of Radioactive Isotopes.|
|FISHER:||(smiling) Let the record show that you just blew the dust off.|
|DURBIN:||That's a reflex. This book was published in 1950.|
|FISHER:||Can you read the title of that again, and the publisher?|
|DURBIN:||The Clinical Use of Radioactive Isotopes, Bertram V.A. Low-Beer.|
|FISHER:||And the publisher?|
|DURBIN:||Is Charles C. Thomas, 1950. It
apparently was part of a lecture series that was then committed to print. He
also married Anne Treadwell, so she became Anne Low-Beer. Dr. Low-Beer, plainly,
had a much closer tie with the [Lawrence] Radiation Laboratory than would appear
on the surface. He says in the acknowledgments,
He had a previous tie with the Radiation Laboratory. Anyway, I wanted to just point out that the only reason I ever met him was that the woman, who did the graphic arts for Crocker and the people in it and who made the Geiger tubes, did the illustrations for Dr. Low-Beer's book. And so, he would come over once in a while to see how his illustrations were progressing and to check them. The room where she worked was the room where all of our radioactive counting equipment was located. We could be over there counting a tray of samples and he would walk in.
|FISHER:||I have finished up all of the questions that I had. (turns to Caputo) Why don't you finish off with those that are remaining, and we'll tie it up.|
|CAPUTO:||Can you comment at all about any ethical discussions about human radiation experimentation that occurred during the Cold War, or didn't you hear any discussion, or weren't involved enough?|
|DURBIN:||I recall that the only time that I
was actively associated with anybody who was involved in experiments dealing
with human beings was the time before Joseph Hamilton's death. So[, that would
have been] pre-1957.
The flat answer to your question is No. But, the circumstances, you must remember. From 1946 until 1950, I was an undergraduate and a laboratory technician; from 1950 to 1953, I was a graduate student working on a thesis; from 1953 to the time Dr. Hamilton died, I was a junior associate. I don't think anybody conducts conversations about ethics with people that junior. Certainly not ad hoc and unprovoked.
I always assumed that, particularly in the case of astatine subjects, Dr. Hamilton or one of the other physicians would approach an individual, as was frequently done in those days, I'm told, [with a statement something like the following:] "We are engaged in this research project and would you like to help your fellow man out by participating in this research project? It may not help you, but it may help somebody else down the line. We have this small amount of material that we'd like to inject and then, when your thyroid surgery is finished, we'd like to take the tissue away and analyze it. Do we have your permission to do that? We don't think that this is going to harm you or do you any kind of damage in any way."
I think without any kind of formal forms most of the people confronted with that kind of situation say, "Sure." I suppose that there might be an indication in the patient's chart, if [you] had it before you, that the patient agreed to the injection of astatine-211, which was subsequently done by So-and-So.
I don't think Dr. Hamilton, himself personally, ever injected anybody with anything. I don't think he ever wanted to practice medicine after he finished his internship. He basically turned [away from] medical practice and became a laboratory bench scientist. He was terrified of patients. He was terrified of people.
There was a wonderful anecdote, which I must put down for history's sake. In the old Crocker building, before the Donner Laboratory building had been vacated of the management of the Laboratory and returned to a research facility, John Lawrence and his group maintained a small clinic space where they saw and examined their leukemia and polycythemia patients and administered 32P or whatever it was that was being administered for treatment. There was clinic room with an examining table.
Space [was] very tight, and Hamilton was engaged in a lot of outside committee activities and advisory stuff. It was very shortly after the Bikini [Islands] tests. He was very busy, [so] he had hired an extra secretary. The only place they could put her was out in the hallway. She was the wife of [a] student, and this was the beginning of the baby boom: she was very pregnant.
One day he went [to] his [private] secretary and said, "Marion, how long is it going to be before that baby arrives?" I've forgotten what the exact timing was, but it was relatively [near at hand]. "Can't you get her to quit?" "No, I don't think we can. They're living on very little money, and they really do need the money." "It makes me very nervous. I have visions of having to deliver her in the clinic." I think Mrs. Norman's recollection of this conversation, which she spread around the laboratory, was that he shuddered while he said it and looked kind of pale like he certainly had no interest in doing this.
|FISHER:||He wasn't a typical obstetrician.|
|DURBIN:||No, I think that, whoever did the injections, it was not he.|
|FISHER:||Those who did the injections, do you recall who they were?|
|DURBIN:||I have no idea. I don't know. It is not recorded in anything I've ever seen, and I wasn't there.|
|CAPUTO:||I found it fascinating, yesterday when we were talking, when you mentioned that you never had an appointment at the University of California, Berkeley. I was hoping that you could talk about your relationship with the University.|
|DURBIN:||Basically, I've always been a
laboratory employee. The teaching that I did do was [as a] paid laboratory
[employee] and as an unpaid lecturer for the University. I never made any kind
of moves to try to enter a tenured track. The one opportunity that might have
matured, died with Dr. Hamilton since I was his protégée. The man
who took over the teaching of his course eventually brought in his own protégés,
who were graduate students and not laboratory employees. When they finished
their work, they were hunting for jobs, but I already had a good job.
I enjoyed my job. In retrospect, I am [not] sorry that I didn't go into teaching, except for one thing: The students really keep you on your toes.
I've had a much larger, more coherent opportunity to engage and indulge in research programs of very long range and rather substantial scope, which you can't do when you teach. I think that, I've enjoyed doing that, and if I ever get the data published, [will make] a major contribution.
The other thing I don't regret is that I was never an administrator. Perhaps the people who make administrators around here always thought I was prickly and hard to get along with. I was never part of their group, always an outsider. Again, not having any kind of an entrée, [I] wasn't naturally in the population from which junior administrators would be selected.
|FISHER:||Any regrets about not being involved in laboratory management?|
|DURBIN:||That's what I'm talking about. That's a killer. Nobody who does that ever goes back to science, that I know of. Because by the time they go back, their science has left them behind. They're out of date, they're out of commission. The other part of being in administration is that administrations change. One day you're out on your ear, and you're the enemy of the people. Who wants that?|
|FISHER:||So you don't regret-|
|DURBIN:||-I don't regret never having been an administrator. It does get you into some funny spots sometimes. I [was] interviewed for the post that Ed Wrenn finally filled after Tom Dougherty died at Utah. In some ways, I regret that I didn't get it. It would have been an enormous challenge, and it would have been a lot of fun with a lot of people that I liked a lot and got along with well. I think I had the happy support of the lab staff, for whom it would be like going home to mother. The other people [in University of Utah administration] looked at it from the point of view that they would like to have somebody who already had a faculty appointment, and I think they [really] wanted a man. I had neither qualification. I didn't regret it from the point of view that it would have been-this gets into Women in Science Who are Married and Have Families and Life Outside the Laboratory-extremely difficult, if not impossible, for my husband, who was a practicing attorney at the time, to have entered law practice in Salt Lake City in his late forties, [or] early fifties by then, knowing no one.|
|FISHER:||This was James?|
|DURBIN:||Yes, [and] coming from, Heaven preserve us, the dreadful place of San Francisco. It would have been very, very hard on my family life. Very hard.|
|CAPUTO:||Were there any other times in your career that you think being a woman hurt you or held you back?|
|DURBIN:||It wasn't so much that as it was that I had become a specialist's specialist. I didn't have some of the skills and I didn't have some of the experience that most people are looking for [in] administrators. I was considered for the post that Chet Richmond eventually took at Oak Ridge. But that didn't pan out either.|
|CAPUTO:||The fact that you spent your entire career at Berkeley is unusual in the scientific community. Was that a factor?|
|DURBIN:||Probably. It wouldn't surprise me.|
|CAPUTO:||The story broke last December about the plutonium injectees and there's been-|
|DURBIN:||-Excuse me, the story did not "break." It came around on its decennial cycle. I expect that in twenty aught four it will come back [one] more [time].|
|FISHER:||The new Secretary of Energy discovered that this had taken place.|
|CAPUTO:||Right. Is there anything you feel about the way the public is perceiving human radiation experimentation during the Cold War that needs to be clarified?|
|DURBIN:||I'm afraid-I'm taking a very cynical
and dim view of this whole thing. I'm afraid that there is absolutely nothing
that the Department of Energy or anybody else can do to undo the damage that has
already been done.
Your group can produce comprehensive, logical, sensible reports; the people at University of California at San Francisco can produce logical, sensible, comprehensive reports; and, at best, the reports will be called cover-ups and whitewashes. At worst, they will be called incomplete and, because the problem has been raised, [people will say,] "We know there's more to it than you are telling us. We are not convinced and besides, you set up that gorgeous Hotline, and you had all these public meetings. What do you think we wanted? Do you think we wanted to just complain? We want compensation, we want money! If you don't give us the money, we are going to conclude that you were not sincere at all from the very outset, and a plague on all of you."
A small incident that happened on the BART94 train illustrates this. I'm sitting in the middle of the car on the BART train. [There's] this lady with earrings and jeans jacket. She looked like an over[-age] hippy, but that's the way we dress around here. So, she could have been just [a] perfectly ordinary soul. I noticed she's sitting at the end of the car, [and] there are not too many seats; a fairly full car. I've got packages on the seat next to me, so the seat next to me is basically not occupied.
She comes up and she leans over and says, "Would you mind moving your packages, so I can sit down in the middle of the car. The electromagnetic fields are not as strong in the middle of the car, as they are at the ends of the cars. I want to protect myself from the electromagnetic fields."
I gulped and said, "Excuse me, I'm a scientist at UC Berkeley, and one of the things that I've been reading up on is electromagnetic fields. You really do not need to be this concerned." She said, "There's a lot of things people aren't telling us, and we just don't know what's out there."
I have very little optimism that any of this is going to do anything except cost money.
|CAPUTO:||What would you want the American people, public, to understand if you could get through to them?|
|DURBIN:||I want to talk about the plutonium-injected people, first. The most important message of the plutonium-injected people is that the largest, most complex, potentially most dangerous undertaking in the history of mankind was managed by a group of people who foresaw the potential problems of [an] industrial [health] disaster and set about to avoid them.|
|CAPUTO:||You're referring to the making of the atomic bomb.|
|DURBIN:||That's right. To avoid them and to
mitigate the disasters if they couldn't be avoided. All of the histories, The
Dragon's Tail, Lawrence and Oppen heimer, all of the histories of
the Manhattan Project, agree on this central point: this enormous and incredibly
dangerous undertaking, apart from standard industrial accidents like falls and
fires and electrical problems, had no radiation disasters [among] the general
workforce. There were a couple of [seasoned investigators] who were
experimenting with little reactors, but they are not really considered part of
the general workforce. Huge numbers of people handled vast quantities of
extremely dangerous material, and they handled it basically safely.
One of the underpinnings of this safety was the information that was gleaned by the experiment, provid[ing] the human excretion rate of plutonium. Without that information, they would have been floundering for a long, long time. Had they used the animal data, they would have been off by more than a factor of ten. But ten, sometimes one way or the other, is a very large driver in what you do and how you do it, whether it's ten times too much or ten times too little.
Th[at] enormous enterprise was done with a substantial underpinning of deliberate industrial safety. It wasn't something that was found after the fact, like the radium dial painters, or vinyl chloride, or a lot of other things that everybody says, "Don't bother with," and then suddenly years later they find they've got a disaster on their hands. These people set out to prevent a major disaster, and they did it.
By [and] large, in terms of the general public, safety prevailed, [and] the safety of the public was cared for. That has also been accomplished.
You can measure radioactivity out there. It may, [as] in the case of Fernald,95 depress your property values. It may frighten you, the way it did at Three Mile Island[, Pennsylvania]. [However,] at least in this country, there is scanty evidence for substantive effects on either the general public or on pieces of the public in places like southern Utah, or the fellows who were participants at Bikini. I should think that these kinds of information should reassure the public.
On the other hand, there's a perverseness operating here. One of the perversities is that public thinks that radiation is a bad thing, and we should reduce the permissible limits. Scientists go back to the bench, they go back to their computers and they say, "We can probably manage to do the same jobs with less doses to the workers and less effluents to the environment. It will cost us something, but we'll do it. We can reduce effluents, and we can reduce limits." In answer, it comes out they've reduced the limits.
The public's reaction instead of saying, "Good for you," is, "See, we told you it was more dangerous than you were telling us before." There's a perversity that I don't think you can get over.
Maybe the wisdom and the need of the Indian tribes will carry us through this mess. The only people that seem to have any logic or good sense operating right now are Mescalaro Apache, for example, who are seriously considering being the recipient of an aboveground [waste] nuclear fuel storage site.
[And then there is what] I call it modern witchcraft. In medieval times, in mythological times, in ancient Greek times, people believed that things had spirits and you had to placate the spirits in order to keep things going. The Aztecs believed that there were spirits out there, and they had to be placated with human sacrifices. In medieval times and on into relatively modern times, people have believed deeply and sincerely in ghosts and witches and demons and devils and have done various and sundry things to try to counteract them. Radiation, and chemicals, and electromagnetic fields are the modern demons and devils. The only way you can handle them is to get rid of them altogether.
I almost suggested to the lady on the train that if she wanted to live the simple life, that she should learn how to swim. We were in [the] underwater tube on the BART at the time.
|FISHER:||Or [if] she was worried about the electromagnetic [fields], why take the train?|
|DURBIN:||Drive, swim. I have no idea. You have
to keep trying. Maybe the time will come. Maybe people will look at the
Europeans, who are making a good go at nuclear[-power-generated] electricity.
Our society can afford to have this kind of attitude, because we have huge
resources in natural gas and coal, and we're going to beggar ourselves buying
oil from the Middle East. Everybody feels that somehow that's better than a few
microrem from a nuclear plant. In the long term, in the long pull, it's not
But they've sold themselves [on absolute] safety at any price. I wish you well. I wish you luck. I hope that this [does] some kind of good in terms of getting rid of waste and cleaning up sites, but I don't look forward to it. The demand will be to make it so [clean] that the kiddies can go out and eat the dirt, unrealistic as that may be.
|FISHER:||This record that we've prepared today supplements the published record and hopefully fills in some of the holes, sheds some light on why work was done. We appreciate your time and letting us come to Berkeley to do this.|
|DURBIN:||Let me, if I didn't say it for the record before, [say that] I hope that some time in the next two years, when some of this furor has subsided, that we can [prepare] what amounts to a wrap-up on the data from the human plutonium injectees. Work was done [in the 1970s], [new] measurements were made; they're informative and useful measurements. They inform about one of the important things, which is the initial partition between liver and skeleton, which has been a matter of great conjecture and has been sort of a sliding scale over the last forty years. You have to have [it] in order to [make a really] useful and valid protection model. We propose to publish this in detail.|
|FISHER:||We're still waiting for Bill Moss's96 reinterpretation on the line of notebooks.|
|DURBIN:||That may be part of it. I spent a day
with Bill Moss and the people who are now managing that section at Los Alamos.
Moss is a wonderful detective, and he's been like a ferret hunting out all this
material, but he is not a writer. [I've] encouraged Bill Moss to do what he can
He's doing something with one of their modelers. I don't know why they're off on the modeling scheme before they have the data compiled, but they are. I offered whatever kinds of help I could give in terms of writing and introduction and whatever text is necessary to connect the sections and help them write a discussion. If necessary, lay out the tables for the data and do a lot of stuff and let them contribute the modeling, which is still what they want to do. But, I think if it's left to their own devices the writing will never be done. I have the data. He gave me a copy of all the data. [I understand his problem, because I also have a reputation as "slow."]
|FISHER:||We [at Pacific Northwest Laboratory] provided funding for him on a subcontract. I was the project manager initially. [It] has been many years ago since this was done. We never really made our final payment to Los Alamos because the final report has never been written. As far as I know, we still owe [Los Alamos National Laboratory] $100. It hasn't been paid. It won't be paid until the final report is finished.|
|DURBIN:||Now that's micromanagement! On that entertaining note, we can conclude this session.|
|CAPUTO:||Thank you. ·|