Why US military broke ’50s international code to test germ warfare in San Francisco

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The Nuremberg Code was drafted in 1947 following the appalling revelations of human experimentation committed in Nazi concentration camps. The overarching goal of the Code was to establish a set of rules for the ethical conduct of research using human subjects, guaranteeing that the rights and welfare of such participants would be protected. Two important principles guide and define this Code: the concept of voluntary, informed consent and that no experiment shall be conducted in which “there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.”

Just four short years later, the government of the United States would violate the Code as it undertook one of the largest human experiments in history, spraying the city of San Francisco with a microbe, Serratia marcescens, in a simulated germ warfare attack.

The genus Serratia are a group of soil and water-dwelling microbes with one very neat party trick: the manufacture of a red pigment known as “prodigiosin,” derived from the Latin prodigiosus for its marvelous and seemingly supernatural coloring; this color ranges from a lurid vermillion to a washed-out pink depending upon the microbe’s age.

It was this same curious habit of pigment production that was exploited by the U.S. military amidst the cooling atmosphere of Soviet-American relations in the 1950s. The flashy Serratia marcescens was used as the model organism in a simulated germ warfare attack known as “Operation Sea-Spray.” The goal? A “vulnerability test” to identify susceptible regions in the event of a biological terrorist attack. San Francisco was chosen for its unique geography and proximity to the ocean, as well as its dense population and the tall buildings present throughout its downtown.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: Blood & Fog: The Military’s Germ Warfare Tests in San Francisco

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