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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

Obtaining Consent to Exhume Remains of Radium Cases

FISHER: —I wanted to get back to asking you — I think I got you offtrack when we were discussing the exhumation.
ROWLAND: The exhumation. Back in the early days, when I was studying the deposition of radium in Elgin State Hospital people — and I was talking about this banding effect of repeated injections — we had some bone from Elgin State Hospital people, and we were able to see it, and they lived about 20 years.

Then I got the idea, "But wouldn't it be interesting if I could get a bone from a person who didn't live very long?" And, looking at the records, there was a person who died four or five later, not of radium. Not of radium, but died one way or another.
YUFFEE: A prisoner?
ROWLAND: Well, an inmate.
YUFFEE: An inmate.
ROWLAND: An inmate. A client, nowadays, the word is. But, in those days, it was an inmate.

What we did is, we looked into the possibly of an exhumation. We went through the legal maneuvers to get it, and —
YUFFEE: This entailed —
ROWLAND: It entails court orders and next of kin, and the state got in the act, because they were [responsible for] the [hospital patient]. But, anyhow, we got permission.

That turned out to be the second exhumation of a radium case. Robley Evans beat us: he did one before that. I don't know any of the details on that, but I know we got one a few months after he did his.

Anyhow, we exhumed this body of this individual who was a short-term case. He died of tuberculosis. We were then quarantined. We couldn't take the body off the cemetery, because of the tuberculosis. We had a professor at the University of Chicago come out and remove a portion of the leg bone, which we took back to the laboratory — buried the man, and took it back to the laboratory.

What we found, to make a long story short, is that the embalming process, using formalin, 50 ruined the deposition pattern. It smeared it. It gave more room for exchange of radium. We could still estimate the body content, but we couldn't really study the deposition patterns that we wanted to, in the way we wanted.

However, that did demonstrate that we could exhume. From then on, we and MIT combined [our efforts], before they [(MIT's radium bioresearchers)] went out of business. We did this in, maybe, '67 or something like that. It's a guess, but I'm guessing 1967 — we exhumed at least 100 people in an attempt to determine their total body radium remaining in the skeleton and to look and see if we could see anything about malignancies, bone malignancies.
YUFFEE: Were any of these people some of the dial painters that you mentioned that just got so much exposure and died —
ROWLAND: — promptly.
YUFFEE: Fairly rapidly?
ROWLAND: We didn't emphasize those, although they had been exhumed earlier by Martland and [coworkers]. We were more interested in either to fill in our knowledge base of working in a certain area, a certain plant, or questioning, "Did this person die with a sarcoma or not?" We were trying to fill in this kind of information.

And, net result, we had about 100 exhumed bodies. They varied from beautifully intact cadavers, in which the clothing, the facial expression, everything was perfect, to nothing. You go down, and you dig, and you dig, and you dig, and there's nothing there, couldn't even find bone, just gone.

Depends upon the burial. If somebody has a lot of money and wants to last for a while, they can be buried in lead vaults, the casket inside and soldered closed. It keeps a body very well. Or, if it's in a pine box, nothing. It depends upon the condition of the ground water.
YUFFEE: After — how long after —
ROWLAND: — Well, that depends upon the ground water levels. If the ground water is high, it doesn't take very many years until there's nothing there. If the ground water is low, if you've got a pretty well-drained burial site, they can last a long, long time, even with a poor casket.
ROWLAND: It's amazing, the difference.
YUFFEE: Now, in the process of trying to exhume the bodies, were the family members of these people — were they usually willing?
ROWLAND: They had to be. They had to be. We had to get written approval from every living — what I will call "next of kin," the closest relatives. We had to get their approval, and we had to get a court order. So we had a double process there.

The approvals were obtained by a physician by — primarily by this man, Jan Lieben, who was from the Boston area, and he worked for Robley Evans. He wasn't a member of MIT, but he was hired on a contract basis. We kept him on, and he went around and got the next of kin.
YUFFEE: Were there cases where people said, "No"?
ROWLAND: Oh, my, yes. There were lots of cases where people said, "No."
YUFFEE: So, you would say that far outweighed the people who were willing?
ROWLAND: Surprisingly, I don't think it far outweighed. I would — I don't have any statistics, but I say — maybe we got 30 to 50 percent.

I mean, we had a good [reason]; that "Your long-lost so-and-so worked in the dial industry, or was given radium by a physician, or was known to have purchased a few of these bottled drinking waters containing radium. And we're trying to study the effects on people, and many people died with no effects, and your relative" — often that was the case — "your relative was one of those who apparently lived with no effects. And, what we would like to do is look at the distribution of radium that remains in the skeleton.

"Now, what we will do is this. With your approval, we will exhume the body. We will make the studies, and we will reinter the body, obviously all at our expense."

The only part we didn't do as well as we should have is, we should have been better at getting a report to these people, ultimately. Unfortunately, this process took years.
YUFFEE: Right.
ROWLAND: After the exhumation, it might be years. And it was done in various groups — the chemical group; Bob Schlenker, might have certain interests; the medical people would have an interest.

And so, there were all these various interests, and they never came together in a sense where we had one person say, "Hey, let's get all of this stuff together and give some sort of report to the family." We weren't very good at that.
YUFFEE: One other thing: You mentioned that, depending upon how the person was buried, it would depend upon if anything was left, in terms of remains.
YUFFEE: Did you often — did you come across cases where you got all the consent, the court order, went through the song and dance, and then there was nothing?
ROWLAND: Nothing. Amen. We certainly did. There was nothing there.
YUFFEE: That's a huge disappointment.
ROWLAND: Yeah, and we got permissions, and we exhumed people, and there was no radium.
YUFFEE: Did you then try —
ROWLAND: (laughs) You know, "How did we get a mistake here? Or was it a mistake in burial, or a mistake in identification?" There were some weird ones.

I've been trying to go over the exhumations in order to make a summary for this book I've written, and I really ran into cases where I couldn't figure out what had happened. In one case, we exhumed three people with the same name, bing, bing, bing, and never got one with radium in it.

YUFFEE: You also mentioned that they would usually take a piece of the leg bone.
YUFFEE: — Was it the femur? 51
ROWLAND: For the kind of work I did, the femur was useful. With permission from the family, we would exhume and keep the whole skeleton. We did that in a lot of cases, and these are now out at the university —
FISHER: Washington State University?
ROWLAND: Washington State University. All of the radium sample materials — skeletons, skeleton remains, and things of that nature — have been transferred out to the —
YUFFEE: — Trans-Uranium Registry?
ROWLAND: Well, I don't know if it's exactly the Registry. I think it went to the university.
FISHER: Or is that the National Radiobiology Archive?
ROWLAND: Well, yeah, it's an archive. But it wasn't what I used to call the Trans-Uranium Registry.
FISHER: Then, it's not the Trans-Uranium Registry, it's the National Radiobiology Tissue Archive.
ROWLAND: That's right; all right. All of that material went out there.
FISHER: Different.
ROWLAND: Have I covered the exhumation business for you?
ROWLAND: One other important thing I ought to cover, and that's the termination of the program.
YUFFEE: Uh-huh.
ROWLAND: I left in '83, and I left the program in '81. The Radium Program in '81 and the Lab in '83, and I moved away.

I got involved — I think this is relevant — in a consulting business in which lawyers would come to me and ask for help having to do with radiation cases involving radium. So, I began to see a different side of the picture. I became involved in the lawsuits.
YUFFEE: Were you a witness?
ROWLAND: Well, I was a witness when necessary. More often than not, I would basically prepare briefs for the lawyers but, if necessary, I would testify, and I've done that on a few cases.

But, I became involved in this side of the problem and I began to realize the problems of the lawsuits that did come up and the complications one got into.

I was also at that time approached by Argonne and asked if I would write a history of the Radium Program at Argonne. I started this in retirement when I lived down in Kentucky. I moved back here in 1989, so I've been living here in this retirement facility for five years, now.

Since I moved back, I have been working on this history at Argonne, and I also have been writing a couple of papers, making use of the data, and I also have been employed by Argonne to help in these human health studies that you people are involved in, in the sense of what do I have in my corporate memory that — what can I add?

I have also done a lot of looking through manuscripts, annual reports and what have you, to find out what did go on that I didn't know about. We have found quite a little that some of us didn't know about.

Human Use Committee at Argonne

YUFFEE: A couple of things. First of all, a while back you had mentioned what became Human Use Committees, or Subcommittees. When, to your knowledge, was the first Human Use Subcommittee formed at Argonne?
ROWLAND: That has to be in the very early '70s.
ROWLAND: We started the Center for Human Radiobiology in 1969, and it was shortly thereafter, I believe, that a Human Use Committee was formed at Argonne.
YUFFEE: Now, do you know if there was any administrative procedure prior to that where, if a person in the Biology Division or wherever was interested in doing research with human subjects, they would have to go through an administrative procedure?
ROWLAND: I frankly don't remember. I don't remember, for example, that we went through any administrative procedure in asking dial painters or others to come into the Lab to be measured. I don't know what procedure was used in the Medical Division when we brought these people in and blood was taken. We did give skeletal x rays, and here we asked these people to sign off. We asked for permission for skeletal x rays, and many were refused.
ROWLAND: Because of the fear of x rays.
ROWLAND: When the Center for Human Radiobiology was formed, one of the things that was also formed was an Advisory Committee to the Center. We would take problems to the Advisory Committee.

One of the problems I took over and over again to the Advisory Committee, as long as it existed, was on the question of skeletal x rays. Skeletal x rays are extremely valuable for diagnostic purposes, for looking for early radium symptoms and what have you, but they seem to me to be a minefield of problems. The Advisory Committee wanted us to do complete skeletal x rays.
FISHER: Well, it's analogous to mammography for breast cancer.
FISHER: As a diagnostic aid.
ROWLAND: Right. The argument was, "Is the dose we're giving for a complete skeletal x ray justifiable on the basis of the diagnosis that we can get, early diagnosis of a malignancy?" That sort of thing.

This bothered me very much, and I kept asking the Advisory Committee for advice on skeletal x rays, because I did not want to have our institution giving complete skeletal x rays, because there is a big dose involved from the toe to the head.
FISHER: What is a whole-body dose for a skeletal x ray?
ROWLAND: I couldn't tell you now, and I couldn't tell you what it was then. But, I can tell you one thing about [them]. We've had some radiologists in, coming [to] looking at our skeletal x rays, and they would rave about the beauty of them.
FISHER: The quality of them?
ROWLAND: The quality, because we used, in the early days, much higher doses than are used today.

Termination of the Radium Program

ROWLAND: And, they think there's a marvelous reservoir of information in our skeletal x rays which has nothing to do with radium. There have been a couple of teams that have used [them]. That's why I wanted to bring up the name of Bob Thomas.

Bob Thomas — where was he from? He was from — was he Hanford or was he [from University of California at] Davis?
FISHER: Well, no, he worked at Los Alamos [National Laboratory, New Mexico] for many years.
ROWLAND: That's right, he was at Los Alamos.
FISHER: Then went to [Department of Energy] Headquarters.
FISHER: A good friend of mine.
ROWLAND: Yeah. Well, Bob was sent out from Headquarters to Argonne. I don't know why, but at that point, they asked that he be put in charge of the Radium Program, what was left of it. See, this was in the '90s. He ended up in charge of the Radium Program, getting rid [of] it. There wasn't any program, because almost everybody has transferred out of the Radium Program. There was — at the very end, there was one technician left and Bob Thomas.

And then, a couple of us that he hired on a part-time basis, were on the payroll, which, of course, didn't amount to a hill of beans in terms of money.

But, he was here at the time that the final close-up took place, and so he was dealing with questions like, "Where do the skeletal remains go? Where do the tissues go? What do I do with the records? What do I do with the x rays? Do you want me to copy the records?" All this sort of stuff.

And the answers Bob kept getting in the last few years were, "Yes. No. No. Yes. Do this. Do that." They all contradicted each other as various people became empowered in DOE.

It was truly a mess, and the net result of Albuquerque's breaking [the news about] this plutonium business was that everything came to a halt, and all that he was able to do was send the skeletal material out to the state of Washington. Nothing else has ever happened.

They're sitting there, still an expense, now, to an Environmental Research Division, for laboratory space in the Biology Division —very expensive — for this fabulous set of records on 6,000 people who were alleged to or did get exposed to radium, their x rays and what have you. It was a huge —
YUFFEE: — It was just sitting there.
ROWLAND: Just sitting there, locked up, because no one has made a decision of where it goes. There was lots of talk about putting these in a computer system, in a database.

I don't even know what has happened to the databases at Argonne. They were on tape, and I think they've been taken off the computers, because that's a big expense, but they're still on tape there, of all the cases.

That's a problem that is yet to be settled. This human use — this human studies stuff has put a real freeze on it, not that it has anything to do with it, but no decision has been made on what's going to happen to all that data.

Potassium Studies in Cooperation with Loyola University

YUFFEE: A couple of tie-up questions. In your experience at Argonne, are you aware of any other studies, aside from your studies, with bringing in people to be measured and such, counted?
YUFFEE: Are you aware of other studies involving human subjects with radiation?
ROWLAND: Oh, yes, yes. Well, Charlie Miller, in our division, originally, and then, later, in the Health Division, participated with Loyola University [(in Chicago)] on a study of natural body potassium in people of different builds and of different diseases.

These people were often given potassium-42 and either measured at Loyola or brought over to Argonne and measured both for potassium-42 and natural potassium-40.

Now, this was a study involving, in one case, about 40 [patients]. We came across all this because we were looking into the fact that, in the early days, not really having to do with radium, but having to do with whole-body counters, as you're well aware, there's normal potassium in the body, and it really is what prevents us from seeing other things in the body. It's the limiting factor.

In order to quantitate it, it was quite customary to have people drink solutions of potassium-42 as a calibration, so we knew how much was in them.

There were a number of such studies, but looking, trying to find both studies and identify the people involved, brought us to the fact that there was this big study that was going on at Loyola University, in which the people, I believe, would come to Argonne, where the whole-body counters were.

So, there had been a number of studies which involved isotopes in humans given at other institutions, but only [measured] at Argonne.
YUFFEE: And, would they be healthy volunteers?
ROWLAND: Not necessarily.
YUFFEE: So a mixture of volunteers [and] patients?
ROWLAND: Yeah, a mixture. It would be patients, more likely.
YUFFEE: More likely patients?
ROWLAND: Right. I think Loyola has a connection with the Veterans Administration Hospital, but whether any veterans were involved, I don't know. But anyhow —
YUFFEE: And these were tracer doses?
ROWLAND: Oh, yeah, these were tracer doses that were given, so as to — [it's] difficult to quantitate the amount of potassium in a person. Even if you count it, what if the person weighs 300 pounds, versus somebody who has a body content total of 100 pounds?

You need some way to calibrate, you know, what the effect of the changing distribution of the muscle had to do with the response of the counter, and you can solve that with potassium-42.

Arsenic-76 Study

YUFFEE: Were you aware of any other studies with human subjects, radiation of human subjects?
ROWLAND: I'm aware, now, only of those that we have reported in this recent review for DOE. Yes: we found a couple [such experiments]. Arsenic was used, arsenic-76.
YUFFEE: So, have you been helping out Bob Schlenker?
ROWLAND: Yeah, I'm on the committee.
YUFFEE: Oh, okay.
FISHER: That's actually a study that I located and forwarded to Bob Schlenker. I found it in the records.
ROWLAND: In the annual reports or in the 189s? 52
FISHER: No, I found the arsenic-76 study in the Argonne files at the National Archives in Washington.
FISHER: Sent it to Bob [Shlenker]. Very interesting study.

Reassessment of Plutonium Injection Cases

FISHER: Also in wrap-up, I think we should mention, for the purpose of the oral history, that you did some reassessments of the original plutonium injection cases with Pat Durbin. 53
ROWLAND: Well, we haven't mentioned that.
FISHER: Published several articles, reports on that study. I don't know if you would like to say anything about that, but you did get involved in the reinvestigation of those plutonium injectees.
FISHER: Identifying who was still alive and what the causes of death were among those who had died.
ROWLAND: Yes. There's a paper by Rowland and Durbin that summarizes the 18 injection cases after we had brought three of them in for metabolic studies and attempts to count plutonium in the body.
YUFFEE: Is this in the early '70s?
ROWLAND: This is in the early '70s. I think it was given in a symposium somewhere, a big red book, Radium and Plutonium or Plutonium and Radium.
FISHER: That was the Sun Valley meeting.
ROWLAND: That's the Sun Valley one?
ROWLAND: Anyhow, to give you a concise, quick history: Pat contacted me at some meeting, sometime probably in '72, telling me that she had found that some of the people in that group of 18 were still alive and suggesting that we had the organization that, one, could find them, and two, could bring them in and handle them. She knew her university [(University of California)] would never allow it.

I think I visited her lab [(Crocker Laboratory)] in the mid-'70s — '72 — and she was going to hand over the files on these people that she thought were alive, but the files weren't copied yet. So, what happened was that she brought them to Argonne, I think in about, approximately, December of 1972.

At that point — I don't have the dates — I went to [AEC] Headquarters to talk about funding to do this nonradium program. I thought we had been very successful at radium, and I went and I talked to Jim Liverman, who was head of the Biology Program at that time.

And, I also talked to Sid Marks at the same time. You know, Sid Marks was serving a period, I think, at that time, two years in Washington[, DC at Headquarters]. I talked with the two of them about doing this, and the immediate reaction was, "In no way, shape, or form do you touch those people."

I was appalled at this, and I said, "You know, you funded our program for years, not because you give a damn about radium, but because radium is an analog for plutonium. We could learn so much about plutonium if we can bring these people in."
YUFFEE: That seems like a natural extension.
ROWLAND: Right. And they're living, they're human; we know (we think) how much plutonium they got, and we would like to measure the ones who are alive, and we would like to go out and try to exhume the ones who are not alive and see what we can learn about the deposition in the skeleton.

And, the answer kept coming back, "We can't touch it with a ten-foot pole. We can't do a thing."

Naively, I keep saying, "But it's good science." And obviously, what I didn't realize, it was bad politics, or bad public relations, because you [would] have to admit that it's out there.

Finally, I was able to get approval to take it out of my own funding: "Don't write anything about new funding for this." I would take it out of my funding, on one condition, and that condition was that I did not tell these people they had plutonium in them.
FISHER: Was that something that Liverman requested?
ROWLAND: That was — Jim Liverman [who] requested that in no uncertain terms. But I'm na´ve; I'm stupid. I didn't get it [in writing]. See, I don't think "legally." So, I agreed. I mean, he's the boss; he funds us, you know. You do what he tells you.

And he said, "Do it, but don't tell them they have plutonium in them."

So, what do we do? And so, it was agreed that we would say they have an unknown mixture of radioisotopes. They were given an unknown mixture of radioisotopes. That has an element of truth.
ROWLAND: Because you never get injected with pure [plutonium]-239 or -238; there's always a contaminant.
FISHER: (smiling) It was an unknown mixture of plutonium and americium.

ROWLAND: So the only fib was, we just left off the plutonium and americium: "Unknown mixture of radioisotopes."
YUFFEE: Now, when you approached these people who had no idea that they were ever given an isotope, how did —
ROWLAND: — Well, I can't give you firsthand information there, because I never approached any of these people. The fact of the matter is, we only ever approached one person to begin with, and that was Mr. Elmer Allen, the unfortunate man who had his leg damaged in a railroad accident which was the cause of his getting plutonium.

He was given plutonium in the muscle of the leg 24, 48 hours before it was scheduled for amputation on the suspicion that it had a bone sarcoma. As you well know by now, he lived a fairly normal life afterwards.

When we approached him — we found him very easily — when we approached him, we were making arrangements to bring him to Rochester, to Strong Memorial Hospital, where the metabolic studies would be done, because the other three living cases had been injected there and were being followed there by the physician Christine Waterhouse.
FISHER: Christine Waterhouse.
ROWLAND: Christine Waterhouse was there, and she had said, "Yes," she would. She routinely brought these people in and it would be very easy to bring them in, and they would go into a metabolic ward for two weeks, and she would collect excreta for us, which she did.

Elmer Allen came up, as you know, not by airplane, so he had to go through Chicago, and so, while he was in Chicago, we invited him — we had him out to the Lab, and we got to meet him and tried to do plutonium counts. Rundo tried to do plutonium counts, and he couldn't see a thing. 54

The answer was pretty obvious, we learned later, because then he went on to Rochester for two weeks and collected excreta.

He had very, very little plutonium in him, and the answer to that was, it was injected intramuscularly, and then amputated, so that he had less plutonium than anybody had in them. But, we could certainly detect it by chemical analysis, radiochemical analysis of the urine.

So, three cases were done. Dr. Waterhouse contacted the other two cases and was very loathe to tell them about plutonium, obviously, even later, when she was told to. I don't know what she told them when she brought them in. Maybe she told them nothing, because she did bring them in other times.

We told Elmer that he had an unknown mixture of radioisotopes we wanted to learn about, but we never told him it was plutonium until shortly thereafter.

I don't know what prompted the investigation by the Inspector General. It [only] says [the reason] on the invitation [to the IG] from Liverman. But, I don't know.

Somehow or other, the story must have broken, some way or other, because the investigation was taking place, and we were all investigated as to why we didn't tell these people about the plutonium.

I'm sorry about the whole mess, because we should have told them right off the bat. We always made a big effort in the radium cases to explain what we were doing, why we were doing it.

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

ROWLAND: In fact, we have a lovely little book. We had written a little booklet that we sent to these people before they came, and we probably didn't to Elmer.
YUFFEE: Did you keep a copy of that?
ROWLAND: Yeah, I have a copy of that.
YUFFEE: Do you think maybe you could send a copy? I would be interested in seeing that.
ROWLAND: I can't send it, but I can send a xerox of it.
YUFFEE: Yeah, that would be fine. That would be interesting to see.
ROWLAND: It's a nice little book. We have two of them, one on willed bodies. I don't know if I have that one, but [the other one described what took place during the visit to Argonne].
YUFFEE: That would be interesting.
ROWLAND: And, basically, what we tried to do is treat these people like you and I aren't treated when we go to a clinic. We had one of our search-and-contact people with them every moment, always, explaining what's going to happen before they got there, being with them. Wait for them, lead them on.

And, all this involved: "We're measuring the radium here. We're going to give you skeletal x rays here to see if there's any effect of radium." So forth and so on.
YUFFEE: That's very interesting.
ROWLAND: So, it went against our normal operating procedure, the way we were dealing with Mr. Allen, because we couldn't tell him about the plutonium. We could just talk about radioisotopes. How much of this he would have understood, I don't know, anyhow.

Public and DOE Awareness of Plutonium Injections

ROWLAND: Because, as you well know, the lay public is — radiation and radioisotopes just all mean the same sort of thing, and they don't mean very much, as I see it.

Anyhow, subsequently, we went ahead with exhumations, and subsequently, we were told to inform all the people, and subsequently, all contacts were informed that were contacted by our people.

Dr. Lieben in Boston for the exhumations, Austin Brues, and Walter Weisen, I believe his name was, from DBER, 55 a physician on the staff, went down to Italy, Texas, to tell Elmer Allen's doctor about the plutonium. Whether they told Elmer to his face, I don't know; I wasn't there.

But, everybody eventually was told that it was plutonium. And eventually, something like a dozen papers were published on various aspects of plutonium in the bone, what have you.

But, the interesting thing to us, in retrospect, was the [so-called] secrecy of the whole [plutonium-injection study]. We all knew about the plutonium injections. Pat Durbin had written an [informative] article on the cases revisited that appeared in a symposium volume.

We published all our stuff on it, and we talked quite openly in the public about these people.
ROWLAND: Because there was no classification; there were no secrets left. But, it seemed to come as a big surprise to DOE.
YUFFEE: I'm sure.
ROWLAND: And, that has a lot to do with continuity of information. All the people in our day at DOE knew about it. Well, you probably have seen what we call fact sheets.

We used to write fact sheets for Headquarters use, because they would always call up and [ask], "Can you tell us about this today so we can tell so-and-so tomorrow about it?" or something. So, we kept sending them fact sheets on what we had done and what have you.

So, we were, I think, pretty good in keeping everybody informed, particularly on plutonium, but on everything else we did, too.
YUFFEE: I think that we've asked the questions that we had, and you mentioned that there were certain things that you wanted to say that you were able to.
ROWLAND: I was saying I would probably think of things after you leave. But, on the whole, I'm blank right now.

Analyses of Thorium Workers

FISHER: Well, I do want to mention very briefly that you've also done analyses of thorium workers.
FISHER: And especially women, maybe, and men who worked in the preparation of thorium mantles [used in Coleman lanterns].
ROWLAND: Actually, [regarding] the study [at] Argonne, I was peripheral to it, because I was division director at the time.

We were very interested in the thorium workers, because there were a very large number. They were very close to the Laboratory; West Chicago was not far from Argonne. There were thousands of them.

The firm gave us complete records, employment lists, and we were interested in knowing whether we could measure thorium in their body. And, as you know — or may know — we did bring several in and found that, yes, we could detect residual thorium in the lung area.

We did — we, again, [meaning] my institution — we did crude studies of causes of death. The very first one that was done was fascinating in the sense that, statistically speaking, only two causes of death deviated from expected.

One was heart problems, and it deviated in a negative direction. I've learned — and I don't know why — epidemiologists never seem to look at deviations in the negative directions, even if they're statistically significant. They never look at those. I haven't had enough epidemiology to know why you don't do this.
FISHER: For the benefit of the transcription, in the negative sense is the lack of cancers.
YUFFEE: Or the lack of heart problems.
ROWLAND: [Those] less than expected.
FISHER: Less than expected.
YUFFEE: Less than expected. So there were less than expected heart problems.
ROWLAND: Less than expected heart problems. But we did find more than expected traffic accident deaths.

YUFFEE: Maybe it affects the optic nerve. (more laughter)
ROWLAND: Neither of these, offhand, seems to be related to the fact that they had a potential exposure to thorium in the form of dust and other rare earths, as well.

But, you know, if you, as a person who is on the fringe of epidemiology, but doesn't wear the hat, why you don't look at the negatives with equal glint in your eye as you look at the positives, the excess of malignancies, I never did understand. But both of them, I was convinced, were unrelated to the thorium.

ROWLAND: And then, apparently —
YUFFEE: So thorium doesn't make you a bad driver? (more laughter)
ROWLAND: That's one of the pitfalls of this type of analysis. You just don't know all the things you need to know about the population.

Subsequently, a second study was done by a visiting postdoc or something from China, perhaps. I think he found all sorts of things that I have not paid much attention to and am not really convinced that they're real. But, there was a second study published by a postdoc, who seemed to find some causes of death which he seemed to think were significant.

But, we did do this [study]. This was supported by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, because they had more interest in thorium than our funding agency at the time.
YUFFEE: (turning to Fisher) Does that finish it for you, Darrell?
FISHER: Yes. I would just like to finish up by adding that it has been a pleasure to meet with you this morning and conduct this oral history interview.

You're now retired.
FISHER: 71 years old?
ROWLAND: 72, now.
FISHER: 72. Still active in supporting work at the Laboratory.
ROWLAND: I have been involved in the study of human uses of isotopes on a sort of an ad hoc basis.

As long as the Radium Program was in effect, which it is no longer, I was employed whenever needed in the Radium Program, primarily as a source of information.

I also am employed by a city in Wisconsin, trying to circumvent the requirements that they spend a lot of money to get the radium out of their water before — well, they're hoping to wait long enough for Congress to act and put new regulations in effect.
FISHER: Do you know of any sources of radium that could be obtained and used at our Laboratory for other purposes?
ROWLAND: By a source of radium, you mean a little bottle that says, "radium"?
FISHER: We're looking for radium, radium-226.
ROWLAND: It's a very good question. I don't know where you'll get it, because I think most laboratories have tried to get rid of everything of that nature.
FISHER: If you think of it in the future, we're interested in radium, not so much radium-beryllium sources, but radium carbonate [or] radium chloride.
ROWLAND: How about radium in the form of pottery?
FISHER: Perhaps not so interested in solid forms of radium.


But we are interested for transmuting it to other short-lived radionuclides for medical applications, one of which is radium-223.
ROWLAND: Mm-hmm. Well, how about Canadian Radium Corporation? They still mine up in Canada. Don't they separate radium anymore? We used to buy our radium from Canada.
FISHER: We'll check on it. We're not interested in buying it, but in taking it off of other people's hands.
ROWLAND: Off somebody's hands.
FISHER: Because there is a disposal cost associated with radium.
ROWLAND: Oh, I'm sure there is. I'm sure there is.
YUFFEE: I also wanted to note for the record that you got an M.B.A. in 1975 from the University of Chicago.
FISHER: Oh, that's right.
ROWLAND: Was it '75?
ROWLAND: I guess so. I don't remember the year.
YUFFEE: We did not talk about that, which is interesting to note and, I guess, as we were saying, it fits in with your duties as a —
ROWLAND: As an administrator at the Lab at that time.
FISHER: We should also mention your term of service on the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.
ROWLAND: Yes. I resigned when I left the Laboratory. I thought that that should be a position held by active researchers, not retired researchers. So I submitted my resignation when I left the Laboratory.
FISHER: But, it's a distinguished calling, you might say.
ROWLAND: Yeah. It was a great group of people to work with.
YUFFEE: We appreciate your taking the time to speak with us. It has been very interesting.
ROWLAND: Well, I hope it's worth your while.
YUFFEE: It has been, definitely. Thank you.
ROWLAND: You're welcome.

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