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Oral Histories

Biophysicist Robert E. Rowland, Ph.D.


Short Biography

From College to Argonne National Laboratory

Initial Argonne Interest in Elgin State Hospital

Early Radium Injections at Elgin State Hospital

Radium Studies by Argonne National Laboratory

Medical Treatments Using Radium

Research Into How Radium Deposits in Bone

To University of Rochester for a Ph.D.

Wartime Plutonium Injection by Metallurgical Laboratory Staff

Director of the Radiological and Environmental Research Division

Establishment of the National Center for Human Radiobiology

Making Contact With Radium Cases for Follow-up

Tracing the Effects of Radium in Bone

Funding for Radium Study Ends

Recollections of Argonne Scientists Participating in Radium Studies

Radium-Induced Malignancies

Differing Perspectives on Radium Retention

Seeking a Threshold for Radium-Induced Malignancies

Radium in Ground Water

Obtaining Consent to Exhume Remains of Radium Cases

Human Use Committee at Argonne

Termination of the Radium Program

Potassium Studies in Cooperation with Loyola University

Arsenic-76 Study

Reassessment of Plutonium Injection Cases

Information Provided by Argonne to People in Radium Follow-up Program

Public and DOE Awareness of Plutonium Injections

Analyses of Thorium Workers



Oral History of Biophysicist Robert Edmund Rowland, Ph.D.

Conducted January 27, 1995

United States Department of Energy
Office of Human Radiation Experiments
June 1995


In December 1993, U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O'Leary announced her Openness Initiative. As part of this initiative, the Department of Energy undertook an effort to identify and catalog historical documents on radiation experiments that had used human subjects. The Office of Human Radiation Experiments coordinated the Department's search for records about these experiments. An enormous volume of historical records has been located. Many of these records were disorganized; often poorly cataloged, if at all; and scattered across the country in holding areas, archives, and records centers.

The Department has produced a roadmap to the large universe of pertinent information: Human Radiation Experiments: The Department of Energy Roadmap to the Story and the Records (DOE/EH-0445, February 1995). The collected documents are also accessible through the Internet World Wide Web under The passage of time, the state of existing records, and the fact that some decisionmaking processes were never documented in written form, caused the Department to consider other means to supplement the documentary record.

In September 1994, the Office of Human Radiation Experiments, in collaboration with Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, began an oral history project to fulfill this goal. The project involved interviewing researchers and others with firsthand knowledge of either the human radiation experimentation that occurred during the Cold War or the institutional context in which such experimentation took place. The purpose of this project was to enrich the documentary record, provide missing information, and allow the researchers an opportunity to provide their perspective.

Thirty audiotaped interviews were conducted from September 1994 through January 1995. Interviewees were permitted to review the transcripts of their oral histories. Their comments were incorporated into the final version of the transcript if those comments supplemented, clarified, or corrected the contents of the interviews.

The Department of Energy is grateful to the scientists and researchers who agreed to participate in this project, many of whom were pioneers in the development of nuclear medicine.


The opinions expressed by the interviewee are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department neither endorses nor disagrees with such views. Moreover, the Department of Energy makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of the informa-tion provided by the interviewee.


Conducted on January 27, 1995 in Batavia, Illinois, by Dr. Darrell Fisher from Battelle, Pacific Northwest Laboratory and Michael Yuffee from the Department of Energy's Office of Human Radiation Experiments.

Robert E. Rowland was selected for the oral history project because of his research at Argonne National Laboratory involving the follow-up research on the populations exposed to radium, and other areas of research. The oral history covers Dr. Rowland's epidemiology studies of populations carrying internal depositions of radionuclides, his research of the metabolism of radionuclides in the skeleton, and his involvement in follow-up studies of the living plutonium injectees.

Short Biography

Dr. Rowland was born in St. Charles, Illinois, on January 10, 1923. He received his B.A. (Physics, 1947) from Cornell College, his M.S. (Physics, 1949) from the University of Illinois, his Ph.D. (Radiation Biology, 1964) from the University of Rochester, and his M.B.A. (1975) from the University of Chicago. He is married and has three children. From 1950 to 1962, Dr. Rowland was an Associate Physicist in the Radiological Physics Division at Argonne National Laboratory. Dr. Rowland left Argonne from 1962 to 1964 to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Rochester. In 1964, Dr. Rowland returned to Argonne to become the Associate Division Director of the Radiological and Environmental Research Division. He subsequently became the Division Director, a position he held until 1981. Finally, from 1981 to 1983, Dr. Rowland was Associate Laboratory Director for Biomedical and Environmental Research. Concurrently, Dr. Rowland held the following positions:

  • 1966–83, Senior Biophysicist, Argonne National Laboratory
  • 1971–83, Member, National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements
  • 1976–81, Consultant, Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Dr. Rowland has published approximately fifty articles in open-literature publications. These publications have focused primarily on mineral metabolism, and the effects of internally deposited radioisotopes in human bone.

From College to Argonne National Laboratory

YUFFEE: I am Michael Yuffee. I am here in Batavia, Illinois, at the home of Dr. Robert Rowland, with Dr. Darrell Fisher. Both of us are [representing] the [U.S. Department of Energy's] Office of Human Radiation Experiments, and we are here with Dr. Rowland to discuss his career and, also, to discuss any information that he can give us in regard to our program. It's January 27, 1995.

Dr. Rowland, we would like to start with general background information — where you're from, your education, and how you got involved in the field that you eventually joined.
ROWLAND: I was born right down the river here in Saint Charles, Illinois, in 1923. I was educated at a number of places, some of them the courtesy of the U.S. Army, because I am of that generation.

I graduated from college in Mount Vernon, Iowa — Cornell College — and I immediately went to graduate school in Physics at the University of Illinois [in Champaign].
YUFFEE: Why Physics?
ROWLAND: Well, because Physics seemed attractive after World War II and the atomic bomb. This was — you know, it was a big thing. I did well in math and in science, in general, and it seemed like a logical field to go into.

I only stayed at the University of Illinois for a year-and-a-half. I left because I flunked my French exam. It was a matter of bitterness at the time, because I passed the French exam, according to the French Department, but our professor in Physics flunked the whole flock of us who took it. He thought, probably quite correctly, that we weren't really that good in French, and we really ought to take the whole thing over again.

One of my colleagues in graduate school had recently applied at Argonne National Laboratory and gotten a job up there. Since Argonne was in the Chicago area and I was from [that] area, I, in a spit of something or other, applied to Argonne and, even with just a master's degree, I was hired.

I was very, very fortunate in that. I was hired, really, by a man by the name of Leo Marinelli. Leo also did not have a Ph.D., and he was sensitive to this and was willing to overlook the lack of same, and, in that day, anyhow, scientifically motivated people were being grabbed up very, very rapidly.

I was hired at Argonne, June of 1950. I worked in an old brewery, called Site B at that time, which is just south of the campus of the University of Chicago.
YUFFEE: Wasn't that the site of the Met Lab1 ?
ROWLAND: Yes, it certainly was, in part, the site of the Met Lab. The Met Lab was spread out, going as far as, you may recall, the Argonne Woods Forest Preserve, where they moved the reactor after the demonstration at the west stands that the doggone thing worked. 2 They moved it out to the Argonne Woods, and, obviously, that's where the name, Argonne National Laboratory, ultimately came from.

Yes, I suppose the Met Lab was there. The brewery had been used for some time, and several other sites at the University of Chicago, including the Museum of Science and Industry. 3 There were offices down there, as well, if I recall correctly.

Anyhow, I worked for a short time on a project that had to do with the detection and characterization and concentration of a plume. 4

We were thinking, obviously, of emissions of radioisotopes up [ventilation] stacks, and we had a project going to use freon as our gas that we would release. We were trying to be able to detect it quantitatively with a simple machine.

The machine was called a freon leak detector, which worked extremely well for detecting [freon], but, we were never able to make quantitative [measurements].

Initial Argonne Interest in Elgin State Hospital

ROWLAND: Fortunately, I was able to get off of that project at a very early age and into what actually became, but was not called, the Radium5 Program. We did not have a radium program in the early days of Argonne, the early days being '50, '51, '52.

There was work being done on people who had radium in their body, because the old-timers, like Leo Marinelli and John Rose and Austin Brues, knew that these people had been exposed to an alpha emitter6 many, many years ago.

There were some efforts as early as 1945, '46, to go out to a very famous place — to us — called the Elgin State Hospital for the Mentally Insane, because at that time, there were people living there who were injected with radium in 1931 — and ultimately '32 and '33, we learned — as a cure for schizophrenia. 7

I wasn't aware of that [those early efforts (1945-46)] until very, very recently, when we've been involved in delving back to find out what human experimentation or human contact took place in those early pre-Argonne days, or early Argonne days. 8

At that time, I discovered that there had been efforts to go out and collect excreta or to try to collect radon 9 from these people at the Elgin State Hospital. In a sense, that's getting ahead of the story, because very little was being done at the time.
FISHER: It's interesting that you mention the Elgin State Hospital, because that was one of the first uses of radium for treating mental disorders and, probably, not a successful treatment.
ROWLAND: Well, it certainly wasn't a successful treatment. Actually, to give you an interesting anecdote — which, of course, you will find in my book, 10 of which that is the first copy.
YUFFEE: I was just going to ask you that: Is that the first copy?
ROWLAND: That's the first copy.
FISHER: For the benefit of the transcriber, can you give us the title and the publisher?
ROWLAND: Well, yes, I can. Radium in Humans, a Review of U.S. Studies is the title; I am the author. The publisher, I guess, is going to have to be called the U.S. Government Printing Office. It does not bear an indication of a coding from — what is it?
YUFFEE: The Library of Congress.
ROWLAND: The Library of Congress. But it does say, "Available to the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, Oak Ridge." But there are only 300 copies, hardback, of this, and I have them all.
FISHER: I think we would be very interested in a copy of that.

Early Radium Injections at Elgin State Hospital

ROWLAND: Anyhow, I interrupted my story. A physician — and I gather, at this late date, there's no reason why names can't be mentioned — a physician by the name, I believe, of Findley John was treating patients in the '20s with radium, and he claimed to have had remarkable success with a patient that had symptoms of schizophrenia by injecting 10 microcuries once a week for a period of time.

Apparently, he was responsible in part for the study at Elgin, because it appears that he may have talked those who ran the study or, at least, talked the Elgin State Hospital into cooperating.

The study was performed by a Chemistry professor from Missouri. The name escapes me for a minute, but you may very well know it — Schlundt, a Dr. Schlundt.

The experiment was very straightforward: They took a number of promising candidates and injected people with, in general, 10 microcuries 11 of radium-226, once a week for periods ranging from 10 to 45 weeks.

The interesting thing that was done, from a scientific point of view, [was that] twice within a period of three to six months, he made measurements of the body content.

Then, there was a report to the office that supplied the radium, which was something called the U.S. Extension Service in Chicago — U.S. Radium Extension Service, whose background I know nothing about. They supplied the radium for this study.

Schlundt and his coworkers wrote up a series of four papers, one of which, dated 1933, was specifically on the cases at Elgin. He made it very clear that he was not involved with the analysis of improvement. He just gave his data for the retention of radium and sort of casually said there didn't seem to be very much value in the treatment in the curing of their disease. That's the background of the Elgin State Hospital patients.
FISHER: How many subjects at Elgin State were administered radium?
ROWLAND: Well, that's an unanswered question. I believe — and I may be wrong — that the article in 1933 described 31 patients, something close to 31.

Ultimately, Argonne sent people out to [review] the files [at the hospital]. At one time, I did this work, as well. Sat there in musty offices at Elgin and looked through [files], trying to find mention of radium on patient records. More often, we looked for a notation called "Wing Cottage" — "W Cottage" — because that seemed to be the ones who were getting the radium.

And so, we would go through the files and look for this. A total of 41 people were located who, apparently, had received radium, which is approximately 10 more than Schlundt wrote up.

These additional people apparently got it in 1932 and 1933, [while] Schlundt [did] his work in 1931. So, there is very good reason to believe that some of this was carried on later. And, indeed, it's mentioned in here that —
FISHER: Meaning your book?
ROWLAND: Yes, excuse me, in the book — that interviews with other people at later dates indicated that Findley John kept going back to Elgin and, apparently, was bringing radium out to Elgin so they could use it on other cases.

So, as far as we know, this process stopped, for what reason I don't know, in 1933, and we were only able to identify 41 people who were given the radium.
FISHER: Were you able to conduct follow-up studies on these same people, if living?
ROWLAND: We certainly were, and that will come a little later.

Radium Studies by Argonne National Laboratory

YUFFEE: Okay. Can I take you back just a little bit? When did Argonne begin its radium study?
ROWLAND: Well, it's an interesting question. I can say one answer was, as soon as Argonne was formed in 1946 — July 1st, something like that. There is indication that people in the [Argonne] Biology Division were looking at people at Elgin and trying to detect, determine methods to measure radon in breath.

Let's step back— you were interrupted in asking your questions. Go ahead.
YUFFEE: You were saying that there were people in the Biology Division who were looking at radium as early as '46?
ROWLAND: Correct.
YUFFEE: And why? Was it because of the locality?
ROWLAND: Well, we haven't talked about the "why," but the "why" is fairly obvious to people who were responsible for the health physics and laboratory protection of workers, because radium is an alpha emitter. 12

Radium is a bone-seeker, which means it has the potential to stay in the human body a long time, and radium has a long half-life, 13 so it indicates it will stay in the human body for a long time.

Plutonium14 is an alpha emitter, and plutonium is what we were brought up on as, "This is the reason for radium studies." We were trying to find out the risks of a bone-seeking, long-lived alpha emitter, and we knew the characteristics of plutonium.

I didn't get there until 1950, but the earlier people very well knew that plutonium was a bone-seeker, and it was going to be a potential hazard to literally thousands of people involved in the bomb business. So, that's the reason for looking at radium. There was no other reason, whatsoever, other than the analogy of plutonium and radium — alpha emitter, bone-seeker. There was no interest whatsoever in radium, because radium had nothing to do with the atomic energy business. Very little radium was ever used.
YUFFEE: How was Robley Evans's work incorporated into the initial studies?
ROWLAND: Well, Robley Evans at MIT15 had started the radium business long before. He had started it as early as 1933, I believe. He had looked at his first radium case and thought about radium.

By the time he had moved to MIT, which, of course, was before the war, he, in collaboration with Dr. Aub, had been looking at radium cases, trying to find radium cases.

Everybody knows that Robley and others were involved with setting the first standards for a so-called tolerance level for radium in the human body, done as early as 1941, on the basis of about two dozen radium cases.

Radium was being studied at MIT before we got in the picture at all and quite independently of our studies. Our studies took place— when I say, "our," I mean Argonne — because [radium dial] painting was done at Ottawa, Peru, and LaSalle [in] Illinois, and a lot of painting was done there, so there were people quite close [to Argonne Laboratory]. MIT had Orange, New Jersey, and Waterbury, Connecticut, quite close, so it made a certain amount of sense there.

As we got formally into the radium [effects on workers] business, we had very close connections with Robley Evans and MIT. But, at the beginning, there was just sporadic effort.

Things changed when a postdoc16 by the name of Bill Looney, a physician, came to Argonne, I think for a two-year stay in the Biology Division under Austin Brues. Bill Looney was given the project of looking at the Elgin State Hospital patients and seeing how many were there.

Bill Looney went out to Elgin and started the real record search to find these people and to break Schlundt's code. Schlundt coded these people with a single letter, and we didn't know the breakdown. We had to deduce from the medical records who was A, and who was B, and who was C. There [is] some confusion, even to this day, on a couple of these people, but, on the whole, that was broken down in an early day. That really, I think, was Argonne's almost formal introduction into the Radium Program. There had been a little bit of interest here and there, but when Bill Looney was given this job — and I think the suggestion came from Leo Marinelli in a different division[ —Argonne's study of radium-affected people became serious].

It was the Radiological Physics Division that I was in, that Leo Marinelli was in, and that John Rose was head of, in a sort of a sister division, much smaller, to the Biology Division.

A man by the name of Bill Norris was active in the Biology Division, in measurements at that time of radium cases. The early measurements were done by what we call the "Robley Evans Technique," which was a Geiger counter placed behind the small of the back as the [subject] sat in a chair.

Leo Marinelli very, very quickly realized that the discovery of sodium iodide crystals, thallium-activated, would make a tremendous change in the ability to detect gamma rays. So, immediately, when we got in the business, we got the first crystals we could get from the Harshaw Chemical Company in Cincinnati, or near Cincinnati, Ohio, and started using these crystals as our detectors, used Robley Evans's technique, but put a crystal on a photomultiplier17 [behind] the small of the back.

One of the important characters was a man by the name of Charles E. Miller. He was a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, and he took responsibility for the use of sodium iodide [crystal and] photomultiplier tubes and, hopefully, pulse height analyzers when they came along, to head up this idea of measurements of radium cases.

I remember I spent one spell, when we were still down at Site B, at the university. I was assigned to work for Charles Miller and Harold May, another of our colleagues, out in Site A, which was in the Argonne Woods.

We sat out in there in an electronic[s] division and built three pulse height analyzers from scratch. That was what we did in the lab in the early days. What wasn't available, we built. So, we built three single-channel analyzers and three power supplies, and it was a wonderful education on how these things worked.

Very quickly, we realized that you could change the single-channel pulse height analyzer into kind of like a multichannel by just continually rotating the dial on the vernier18 we had in front. And so, you would put a motor drive on that and just sort of scan it up the scale and turn it into a kind of count-rate meter (really, [that] was what it turned out to be) but which sampled all the channels that we wanted to look at.

Well, anyhow, we're getting off the track. We're interested in how we got into radium at Argonne. Bill Looney really was the catalyst that turned the whole thing on. He brought people in and, I think, by the time Bill had left, we had about 40 radium cases who had been measured in our new labs at the Argonne National Laboratory, and we were now keeping track, in little files, of radium cases.

I was fortunate to get involved very quickly in the counting of these people. I actually went out to Elgin with these single-channel analyzers. One time, my wife was with me as my technician, although she was not employed, and we sat out in the end of a hall at Elgin State Hospital and counted [the radium levels in] a couple of patients.
YUFFEE: These were all the people in Elgin State Hospital?
ROWLAND: These were the mental cases.
YUFFEE: Okay. So this wasn't the dial painters.
ROWLAND: No, we were very slow in getting into the dial painters.
FISHER: It's interesting that they would still be there 20 years later.
ROWLAND: Well, they were.

Some of the [mental patients] were actually moved to another state hospital in Manteno, Illinois, but, in general, these people were in [these hospitals] for life.

It isn't until a later date that our laws began to change — not necessarily for the good, if you ask me — and these people were released, some of them out into the world, in which they didn't do well, didn't do well at all. But, that's another story.

Basically, they were still there, those that were still alive. The doses given to the Elgin patients were far too high to make them good subjects for the study we used them for, which was to determine the retention of radium in the human body.

They were not good for that because we didn't know at the time they had had too much radium. But, they were right in the range where malignancies were induced. They were just perfect for the induction of malignancies. I think a total of about five of those people developed malignancies due to their radium burden.

Bill Norris is the name associated with a retention curve for radium. It was a straight line on a [log-log of retention versus time], a power function.
FISHER: Were these osteosarcomas19 or carcinoid 20 tumors?
ROWLAND: They were both. I don't remember the numbers; it's all in [my] book here. About three of one and two of the other, something like that. You're referring to the carcinomas21 arising in the paranasal sinuses or the mastoid22 air cells.

Both of these are very rare primaries, very rare. That made radium a rather unique radioisotope, in the sense we didn't have to worry very much about the natural incidence of these malignancies because, in the size of the populations we were dealing with, the natural incidence was close to zero.

So, we could take confidence in saying every bone sarcoma we saw or every one of these carcinomas that arose in the air cells was radium-induced. Very unique in that sense.
YUFFEE: Could you tell at this point what level of schizophrenia or, what caused Findley John to want to administer radium to specific [patients?] Was it all schizophrenics that he thought were worthy of the treatment?
ROWLAND: Well, Elgin used that approach. [They] took a group of primary schizophrenics. You have to go back to the mindset of the '20s.

Here was the new [drug,] penicillin, only you never heard [that] word [in those days]. Here was the wonder drug. Radium must have some [useful] properties; [that was the concept]. And so, a very large number of physicians were using radium in their treatment of their patients.

It was widely used for hypertension. It really seemed to have a temporary effect on reducing blood pressure. It was used for reduction of intractable pain, and it worked. It really seemed to work.

Medical Treatments Using Radium

ROWLAND: It turned out [that] there were better methods of doing it, but, jumping way ahead, this is not dissimilar to what was found in Germany, where radium-224 really did remove the pain of the ankylosing spondylitis23 patients. It really worked, and, as you probably know, I believe it has been continuously used in Germany until about three years ago, because it does work.

Many of us, at [the] Alta [(Utah)] symposium in 1974, heard a German physician with ankylosing spondylitis himself [discuss radium use in treatment of patients with ankylosing spondylitis].
FISHER: That was Fritz—
ROWLAND: —Schalas. [He] described how well it worked.
FISHER: I remember Fritz had a fused spine.
FISHER: And, he had a difficult time moving. When he turned — he couldn't turn his head to look side-to-side, and so we had a living example of a scientist interested in therapy of ankylosing spondylitis, who had ankylosing spondylitis. As a student, I was very impressed by that. I'll never forget that.
ROWLAND: That's right. Well, I'll never forget him telling him about it, either, because, you know, we asked lots of questions about, "Why did they use radioisotope? Why so late in time?" And to hear him say, "It works. It really removes the pain."
YUFFEE: It's believable when you know someone who suffers from it.
FISHER: We need to mention at this point that the radium was radium-224?
ROWLAND: Oh, yes, it was radium-224 — and that's probably a much better radium isotope than radium-226. But, apparently, radium-226 had some of the same properties. I would guess that you would have to keep injecting it, as they did with radium-224, repeatedly injecting it, to keep the pain down.
YUFFEE: What are the properties of radium-226 that would make it attractive for treatment of schizophrenia?
ROWLAND: None that I can see.
YUFFEE: So it was just, "Why not try it?"
ROWLAND: But if you look at the early literature — by early literature, I'm specifically referring to a journal called Radium [that] was initiated in 1913 and was combined into another journal in about 1921, '22, something like that. If you read those early issues of Radium, you will find doctors were trying it for everything you can think of. You know, "Here's something. Let's try it here, try it here." And they really were trying it on a lot.

And that's just in the ones that we see who have written for Radium. There were other physicians out there who were writing private pamphlets on their treatments. They apparently were using it for — "You name it; we'll try radium." It was an era like that, widely used.

It only really hurt the rich, because it was expensive treatment. A strange sort of thing. We often think of charity cases and the like being ones people —
YUFFEE: I actually remember reading about the wealthy using it as people today would use aspirin.
ROWLAND: I don't know if it was used quite that frequently, but nevertheless, wealthy people got it and suffered from it.

Well, to go back to our story. Your questions have brought up "why," and I'm trying to say, "I really don't know why." I feel it was just what we like to call a radium era, to try it for anything. If it works, fine; if it doesn't work, we won't use it that way.

There were lots of private physicians using radium. There was a pretty good-sized business in supplying radium to the physicians and letting them see what they could do with it.

Now, in terms of learning about the effects of radium in humans, this turns out to be a very poor source, because physicians are independent. Their records are scattered and easily destroyed. And so, we have very few records of medical use that are of any great value.

Elgin is, in one sense, the best [source of records], although it's a very small group, because it got us [some data on how] radium was retained in the human body.

A much larger group of people were treated with radium, mostly for pain, at the Mayo Clinic [in Minneapolis] in the '20s. This was stopped rather quickly, because they realized there were better ways of treating pain, but it was used in well over 100 patients at the Mayo Clinic.

At [a much later date], too late to do us any good, we obtained the identity of these people. But, by the time we did it — and, actually, it was Robley Evans who did it, who was able to get the data from the Mayo Clinic — most of them were dead or unfindable, so it had no epidemiological24 value.

But, it just shows, as an example, that this stuff was widely used on the American public, without us having any way to get on to it. And that's where the dial painters come into it.

The dial painters were unique in the sense that they worked for a [commercial] company. There might exist some payroll records. There did exist a collegial atmosphere; you normally know the people you work with. You often have pictures of the work site. You certainly have Christmas cards and what-have-you, this sort of thing, and you certainly have memory.

So, it turned out to be relatively easy to reconstruct the workforce in dial-painting plants, because these people [were] still alive,. I If you couldn't get the records from payroll and what-have-you, you could ask them: "Who did you paint with? Who sat next to you [on the job]? Are you in this picture? Who sat next to you [in the photo]?"

We've had, as you may know, wonderful success in looking at pictures, corporate pictures taken of the dial painters, in identifying who each and every one of them is — was.
YUFFEE: So, the sleuthing for the dial painters was much easier?

Research Into How Radium Deposits in Bone

ROWLAND: Yes. I was talking about the role that Dr. Bill Looney, served in getting it going at Argonne.

He was only there two years, and when he left, [he left] a big vacuum, because all of us had our jobs, all of us were doing some sort of work or other, but nobody was responsible for finding radium cases.

At that time, Leo Marinelli had suggested that I look at bone and find out how radium deposits in bone and where it goes. He said [that] a man by the name of Frank Hecker (phonetic), in the Midwest, had made autoradiographs by taking slabs of bone and putting them on film and showing the alpha tracks, and you could see it was in clumps here and there.

He pointed out that a man by the name of Engstrom, in Sweden, had shown how to section bone rather thinly with a saw and make x rays of it. And the x-ray images, when taken with very [fine]-grain film, were beautiful, because bone has a very remarkable structure that is visible as changing densities and which shows up on x rays.

And so, he said, "Why don't you combine the two techniques and let's see where and how radium deposits in bone."

So, I had gotten away from whole-body counting25 and gotten into this field of learning how to section bone and put it on an autoradiographic plate and find the alpha tracks and put it in front of an x-ray machine, that I had developed and got the parts for, and take a picture of it and try to look at the two things together and see how it works. And, in the process, I was privileged to learn a lot about bone.
FISHER: We now call this registration of images. It's a common technique in medical physics.
ROWLAND: We were trying it not only to have good registration of images, we were trying to figure out some way we could get them both on the same image, you know, both in the same picture. That we never got to. But, yes.
FISHER: The trick is to keep them to the same scale.
ROWLAND: Oh, yeah. Well, we did that very easily, because we were doing it one-to-one. We were doing it one-to-one and blowing them up later. So it was a contact x ray and a contact autoradiograph, 26 and so your scale is identical. All you had to do is locate where you were with some trick of registration.

Anyhow, I got off in that field and spent a number of years heavily involved in learning how bone works, how bone turns over.

And, in fact, I was an active participant in the Gordon Research Conferences on Bone and Teeth for quite a few years. We had some very interesting theoretical discussion about behavior of bone, which is very critical to us, because some people were telling us how rapidly bone turned over. We kept looking at these radium autoradiographs made of people who would have had radium in the '30s. We got their bones, say, in the '50s, 20 years later, loaded with radium. Bone couldn't be turning over, being replaced with new clean bone, or it wouldn't have had that much radium sitting there.

So, we had lots of interesting discussions on what really is going on in bone. We would get there and hold up our autoradiographic pictures and show almost all the bone labeled with radium, and the orthopedic surgeons would say, "But now, our studies with short-lived tracers are showing that it's turning over at a rate of about four percent or five percent per year, and in 20 years you're not going to have any of that bone left. How come you see all this sort of stuff?"

So, we got very heavily involved in what was happening in bone and how it behaved. A sort of a side path, but a very important side path, in the long run, to understand radium in humans.
YUFFEE: How were you getting the samples?
ROWLAND: We didn't get an awful lot of samples. But, if you get a number of samples, you get a lot of bone when you're cutting it to 100 microns' thickness. It gives you lots of sections of bone.

One of the first jobs I had with counting of human remains was [that] I was handed a leg one day. A lady had an osteogenic27 sarcoma, 28 and an amputation had taken place at Billings Hospital [of the University of Chicago]. Argonne had gotten hold of the limb, and the question was, "How much radium was in the bone?"
FISHER: This was a radium dial painter?
ROWLAND: This was a radium dial painter.

For example, when you have a limb like that, you have a lot of bone. A number of bones were coming into our possession. We got some bones from Oak Ridge National Laboratory because of a very early study in the days of Martland, who was the medical examiner in New Jersey who first put his finger on radium as a cause of problems in the dial painters in the '20s; he had a [small] museum collection from autopsies.

This got placed down at Oak Ridge in the very early days. We were able to get it out of Oak Ridge, up to Argonne, and then we had a number of samples of the old dial painters.

And so, our bone efforts were aided not only by this museum collection, but by the proximity of the University of Chicago Medical School. When people would come in there with radium, we would try to get those samples.

So, samples were coming in at that time. What wasn't coming in were new cases. We had these 40 people we had measured by the time Bill Looney left in about 1952 or 1953, and that was it. All of us, as I was starting to say, had our jobs [to do]. Miller was heavily involved in improving the ability [to detect radium in the body] and talking Harshaw Chemical into giving us larger and larger crystals of sodium iodide and building multichannel analyzers or buying them when they came on the market. I was involved with understanding the behavior of radium in bone.

Nobody was involved with radium people, and we were not funded to do this, either. Robley Evans was doing that, but we were not funded to do that.

I mentioned the name of the electrical engineer, Charlie Miller. Suddenly, he took it upon himself to find more patients, and he actually got in his car and drove down to Ottawa, Illinois, and basically started by knocking on doors and trying to find patients, people who were living there who used to be in the dial industry. He was quite successful.

He had a good personality, and he would talk these ladies into telling him about their history as a dial painter, if he found one. And then he started asking them the questions. "Do you have any pictures? Do you have any address books? Do you have anything that will help us locate others? Do you know friends of yours in town?" And he did the job very, very well.

It started growing. He started bringing in patients on what we will have to call an unfunded ad hoc method of getting radium patients.
YUFFEE: And were these people already familiar with the notion that radium wasn't good and had been causing them problems?
ROWLAND: These were the ladies who read newspaper articles talking about the women doomed to die.
YUFFEE: Okay. So, when he approached them, they were pretty eager to —
ROWLAND: — They were quite willing to cooperate when it was explained that Argonne was interested in following up on the survivors. He was able to talk them into coming up to Argonne for a [radioactivity] counting session.

And, in a short time, he enlisted the aid of Dr. Robert Hasterlik from the University of Chicago and Dr. Asher Finkel from the Health Division at Argonne and started giving these people physical exams — medical examinations, I guess I should use that word — when they came to Argonne.

And this, really, was the start of the Argonne Radium Program. It went through a number of phases, but, basically, it's all due to Charlie Miller's going up and getting these people and bringing them in.

Now, it was not without its problems. Charlie Miller was a gregarious, outgoing soul, and he loved to talk about his work to his colleagues, but he found that, quite often, when he talked about his work to the Division Director, Dr. Rose, or the Associate Director, Leo Marinelli, they ended up being coauthors on his papers, and this he didn't like.

So, he had a dilemma.


He loved the work, he loved to talk about it. He wanted to write these papers on his own, and so, in a fit of pique one day, he made arrangements to transfer himself and the records that he'd accumulated to the Health Division with Dr. Asher Finkel.

Now, that made a certain amount of sense; Dr. Finkel was doing the medical examinations. So all of a sudden, we found ourselves with no Radium Program at all. Miller had just gone and taken the whole thing to a service division at the Laboratory. This happened in 1964. Miller started his work, I will guess, [in] '53, '54, '55, and in 1964 he turned it over to the Health Division, and our division, the Radiological Physics Division, was no longer involved.

To University of Rochester for a Ph.D.

ROWLAND: Before I go any further in that story, I should tell you, personally, that I left the Laboratory in 1962. I resigned in 1962 to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.

This came about because Bill Newman at the University of Rochester approached me at a Gordon Research Conference and said that he was interested in knowing if I would like a professorship of some sort at the University of Rochester to expand their area of work. Rochester was funded in part by the Atomic Energy Commission, and they did a lot of that kind of work. But, basically, he was asking me to join the University as a faculty member. I was flattered, but I pointed out to Bill that I didn't have a Ph.D. and this [would be] ridiculous. And, he said, "Well, that's easy. Let's get you a Ph.D. Why don't you come and get a Ph.D. and then go on the staff?"

And so, he made it possible for me to get a technical job at the University. So, I applied for a leave of absence at Argonne, and I didn't get it, and so I quit. Moved family, lock, stock, and barrel, in 1962, to New York and pursued a Ph.D.

Bill was such a wonderful guy. He took the last year of my studies off and went to Europe on a sabbatical, so I wrote my thesis without him. But, [I had great] advisors there; one of them was Louie Hempelmann.
FISHER: That's interesting.
ROWLAND: Oh, yeah. Who did we have there? George Casarett; the grand old man, Dr. [Newell] Stannard. These were all people on my committee, and they all said, "You know more about radium than anybody around here."

ROWLAND: I did a Ph.D. on the short-term uptake of calcium isotopes or radium isotopes in animal bone, very short-term, from seconds to minutes, [to] a few days.
FISHER: Did you use calcium-45?
ROWLAND: I used calcium-45. I used radium-226 to compare calcium and radium, and I used rabbits and dogs.
FISHER: This is interesting. One of the questions I was going to ask you: Had you ever studied calcium-45 metabolism in the human?
ROWLAND: No. There was a great deal of interest in it, and I'll come to it a little later. But, to answer your questions, no, we never studied calcium-45 in humans at Argonne, to my knowledge. We used other people's data.

There was a lot of work going on in calcium-45, particularly a guy by the name of Heaney somewhere out in the Midwest — Kansas or something like that — who had a lot of data on the clearance of [calcium-]45 from the blood and the uptake in the bone tissues.

You will find many references to it in the ICRP-20, 29 which is the document that was produced at Argonne National Laboratory by a committee headed by our John Marshall, and it has to do with retention of the alkaline earth elements in humans.

So let me go back and get on the track again. I was telling you about my period in which I left Argonne. I got a Ph.D. in '64.
YUFFEE: So you were on the fast track for the Ph.D.
ROWLAND: Yeah, well, I had graduate school before that, as well. But, it was a fast track for a Ph.D. So it only took me two additional years, after the year-and-a-half I had at Illinois, to get the Ph.D.

And, at the same time I got the Ph.D., I got a telephone call from Argonne, from Leo Marinelli. Leo said that John Rose had indicated his desire to step down as a Division Director and, 30 seconds later, he found he was no longer a Division Director. It was accepted instantly, and Leo Marinelli was now the Division Director. Leo was a great guy, a wonderful scientist, but a lousy administrator, and he was the first to admit it. He wanted no part of administration, but he was the senior man there, and he was made the Division Director.

So, he had called me up and said, "Come back as my Associate Division Director." And I decided, "I'll do it."

I felt badly about leaving Bill Newman and the wonderful University of Rochester, but I had also found that the two years in the lab in which I was doing my Ph.D. thesis were lonely years, and I found that I needed people to interact with and be involved with.

I thought, "Gee, maybe I'm in the wrong field here. Maybe I should be where I can interact more with people."
FISHER: Did John Rose retire at this time, or did he just step down?
ROWLAND: No. He just stepped down, and he stayed on in the lab.

Wartime Plutonium Injection by Metallurgical Laboratory Staff

FISHER: While we're on the topic of John Rose, did he ever mention to you his involvement with plutonium metabolism?
ROWLAND: No. I know of no involvement of John Rose in plutonium.
FISHER: He was interested. I think he and Dr. J.J. Nickson did ingest some plutonium, back in the Manhattan [Project] days, to determine the excretion of ingested plutonium.
ROWLAND: There were six people at Argonne who ingested trivial amounts of plutonium-239, and I speak very authoritatively, because I was the one who discovered it [(the fact that their had been human ingestion)]. 30 I discovered it long before the Human Use Committee business came around. In fact, I have data on this in my records, and I wrote a memo to an Associate Laboratory Director in the '70s, pointing out that this had been done at Argonne or Manhattan District and did they know about it.
FISHER: This is interesting.
ROWLAND: Nothing was done about it, however.

But, anyhow, I have a memo to an Associate Laboratory Director — and I'll guess it's in the '72, '73, '74 period — about Argonne's, or Manhattan [Engineer] District's role, because I found this once-classified paper about six people who ingested it.

Now, at that time, I didn't know who they were. I understand that since then they have all been identified. However, there is some uncertainty, because one of those alive says, "No way." (laughter) So I don't know.

But, anyhow, I don't know that John Rose was one of those, if that's what you're implying, that he was one that took it. I do know that we know that, and since I know that we know that, that may mean that you guys know it, because a report has been sent in, I know.

But I haven't seen it, because we've kept it pretty [quiet] in the sense of who these people were. And I'm on the committee that's doing the work.

The Chairman is Bob Schlenker, as you probably know, and I've been feeding Bob work — in fact, I've been employed again, because of this business, in going over old records.

But I do not know who those six people were. If one was John Rose, I'm very surprised. John Rose was oriented towards health physics, and this, of course, is health physics, but I don't know his role in the plutonium business at all.
FISHER: Was Dr. Nickson there at a time you remember?
ROWLAND: No, I don't believe Nickson was there when I was there, or if he was, it was a short overlap. I joined, as I say, in the middle '50s, and I don't remember Nickson's name. But I know that Nickson and [E.R.] Russell's names appear quite often on pieces of paper having to do with those six people who ingested plutonium. 31
FISHER: I don't know that Rose was one of those subjects, either, but it's quite likely. Certainly, Russell was one.
ROWLAND: Does he remember that?
FISHER: Yes, because we've talked to him about it.
ROWLAND: Good. He does recall it and admit to being one of them.
FISHER: But, I think he has a hard time remembering who the others were. He does remember that Nickson was one, but, as far as any others who ingested trivial amounts of plutonium-239, he's not quite sure. Several of those he had mentioned [who] could have been participants have denied involvement.
ROWLAND: That's what I've heard, that people who were — I had thought that — I may be mistaken — I had thought that records had been found that identified who these people were. But again, they denied it. So I don't know.

Anyhow, my knowledge of John Rose never connects him with anything to do with that kind of health physics. He was very much involved with instrumentation, very interested in instrumentation, in hand and foot counters, in detectors of various kinds.
FISHER: He and Nickson were, to a large degree, responsible for keeping radiation conditionssuitable in the Met Lab. They were the ones who were concerned most about overexposures to product.
ROWLAND: Uh-huh.
FISHER: And monitoring of the Manhattan Project workers in the Met Lab who were being exposed to what they thought, at that time, were excessive levels of plutonium.
ROWLAND: Which means they were doing collections of urine and trying to detect the alphas from the plutonium, on a routine basis.
FISHER: And, they were frustrated that they weren't sure how urinalysis results correlated with intakes.
ROWLAND: Of course. And that's the purpose of their little experiment.
FISHER: Right.
ROWLAND: And, they did get some nice curves out of it [that] I recall seeing. That's an interesting chapter of history, back there, and one that was really not very well known, as far as I can tell, to the present population at Argonne.

I don't know how well it was known, even back in the Manhattan [Engineer] District days. I really don't know. But, boy, nobody seemed to know beans about it in the era I was there.
FISHER: That's interesting.
ROWLAND: Either it was compartmentalization or lack of interest, that sort of thing.

For example, we all knew about the 1945-to-1947 injections of plutonium. I don't remember when I first knew about them, but that was common knowledge at a very early date. I remember having a poorly copied copy of LA-1151, which was —
YUFFEE: Wright Langham's paper?
ROWLAND: Wright Langham's paper.
FISHER: It was classified?
ROWLAND: It was classified, but it was reduced in classification.
YUFFEE: Wasn't this "For Official Use Only"?
ROWLAND: Yeah, something like that.
YUFFEE: I think it was OUO.
ROWLAND: Yeah. It was originally a higher classification.

Yes, I came back to Argonne in the summer of 1964 and took over as Associate Division Director. It was a very interesting period for me, in the sense that Leo was very serious about really not wanting to be involved in administration. As his Associate Division Director, he —

Director of the Radiological and Environmental Research Division

FISHER: — We should mention that this was the Radiological and Environmental Research Division.
ROWLAND: Not yet, but it soon would be. It was Radiological Physics at that time.

He appointed me to a committee of division directors called the Personnel Committee, which, at that time, set salaries of incoming scientific staff and approved promotions of scientific staff all over the Laboratory. It was a very educational sort of committee, and the very fact that Leo didn't like administration and that he assigned it to me, I got to know the Laboratory people, because I interacted when he should have been.

This was sort of unusual, and it had a very strange effect, because in 1967, three years later, I was at a meeting in Montreal, and I got a telephone call that I was to be [the division] director. Leo had quit as division director and asked to be relieved. I got a call telling me that Leo was quitting and I probably was going to be the division director and I had better get back home. The Lab was without a Lab Director at that particular moment. We had an acting Laboratory Director. It was the former head of the Chemistry Division — Winston Manning. So, Winston asked me if I would be division director. He then called up the [individual] who had just been identified as being Argonne's next Lab Director, [Robert Duffield]. [Duffield] agreed that I could be appointed division director, and I ended up being division director — [that was] in 1967— and I was division director until 1981. So I had a long spell at Argonne as division director.

During that time we changed the name of the division, ultimately, to Radiological and Environmental Research [(RER)] Division, because I had invited a member of the Biology Division, Phil Gustafson, to come and be my associate division director. He did, and he brought with him a newly founded portion of the Lab having to do with ecology [and] environmental work.

The Radiological Physics Division had [contained] a Meteorology Section. Every National Lab had a Meteorology Section: "Which way is the wind blowing [if] something blows up?," that sort of thing; "Where's the plume going?"

We had a Theoretical Radiological Physics Section of very top theoreticians, good people. A guy by the name of Platzman, whose name you may have heard of, was in our division. He was very well respected. And then it had this group of people who were doing whole-body counting, radium stuff and what-have-you, chemistry of excreta and the like.

We brought [in] Phil Gustafson and the ecological [and] environmental work and changed the name of the division. Probably in 1968 or 1969, or somewhere up in that area, we changed the name of the division.

Establishment of the National Center for Human Radiobiology

ROWLAND: Anyhow, very quickly after I became director, a big change came about, because Robley Evans got in the picture. Robley Evans, at a symposium in Sun Valley, Idaho, talked about the radium cases they had studied at MIT, and he talked about the radium cases, to some extent, that had been collected at Argonne by Miller, Finkel, and Hasterlik. [He] announced that he was retiring and proposed that a National Center for Human Radiobiology be set up as an immortal organization, supported by Atomic Energy Commission, to carry on the study of radium cases as long as any of them lived. This proposal was presented at Sun Valley in his paper.

He presented it to the AEC, subsequently, and the AEC formed an ad hoc committee, set up by the Division of Biology and Medicine [(DBM)] of the Atomic Energy Commission, to look at it.
YUFFEE: Do you remember who headed up that committee from the DBM?
ROWLAND: No, I don't. It was an ad hoc committee, so I think there were no DBM people on it.
YUFFEE: Oh, really?
ROWLAND: I think they were all senior people around the country.

Robley was a very strong personality. Very. I don't know if you really knew Robley well, or —
FISHER: I met him at the Alta Conference.
ROWLAND: Right. Robley was a very strong personality. He was very hard to buck.
FISHER: He was well respected.
ROWLAND: He was very respected, but he was very strong, and he was very, very intimately involved, in ways that I don't understand, with the Atomic Energy Commission and the Atomic Energy Commissioners and the Headquarters people at Germantown, [Maryland].
FISHER: Was Glenn Seaborg —
ROWLAND: —Robley Evans met with this ad hoc committee and suggested that they find a place and they find someone to direct this National Center for Human Radiobiology so that they could follow up and combine all the radium cases.

The combining was a very good point, because it was [first] a study at MIT. There had been a Public Health Service-supported study in New Jersey, because New Jersey was the start of dial painting, and for about six or seven years there was a group down there that had been terminated and the records had been given to MIT.

And then, there was this strong group at Argonne, who had collected a lot of people from the Midwest. They were reporting separately, and the populations weren't combined. That's not a very good way to do epidemiology.

So, his proposal had a lot of merit to it, in the sense [of] combining [the material] into one study. However, Robley ended up by strongly suggesting that it be, one, at Argonne and that, two, I be director — out of the clear blue sky.

I mean, I never knew Robley that well, but he decided I was going to be the director of this Center for Human Radiobiology. That may have been because I was the division director at that time, had just become one. I don't know.

But anyhow, that's the way it went. Argonne was approached officially through channels, and Argonne accepted, and I ended up with a title and —
YUFFEE: —What year was this?
ROWLAND: It actually started — he proposed it in '67, and in September 1st, of 1969, we formed a Center for Human Radiobiology.

As part of the contract, or informal contract, we offered positions to all of Robley's people at MIT who might want to come to Argonne to continue their work. A total of four people did come. Just four people came, transferred from his work to ours.

Now, we kept Robley Evans on the payroll and his administrative assistant, Mary Margaret Shanahan. We set them up as a satellite at MIT. We also set up a satellite office in Orange, New Jersey. We had a nurse down there who had worked in the Public Health Service search for radium cases, and we set her up as the satellite so that they could have contact. These were two satellites that could at least make contact with nearby people and make arrangements for them to come to Argonne to be part of the Radium Program.

One of the blessings of this new arrangement was that we got money at Argonne to build. I built a wing on the Physics Division to house medical records and to house the people who were to be involved in — who were to be measured, who were to come in and be part of the program.

I had testified previously — and during this period — before the Joint Commission on our need for facilities, because we had a whole-body counter, which was excellent, built underground. It was shielded, lots of earth, lots of concrete, maintained under positive pressure to keep the radon out and have radon-cleared air that went into it.

But, to get them there, we walked right through a little building [containing] a door [behind which the] exhumation [studies took place]. So, we had cadavers laid out and being deskeletonized one door away from the waiting room to the whole-body counter.

I kept talking to the Commissioners about [how] this [was] not a good way to do business. If somebody [opened] that door by mistake, we [would be] in deep trouble.
YUFFEE: This is the Joint Commission on Atomic Energy?
ROWLAND: Yes. This was the Joint Commission of Senators and Representatives for the Atomic Energy Commission. They were the ones who took hearings.

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