WASHINGTTON — WASHINGTON -- After more than a year of searching its records on human radiation experiments from the 1940s and later, the Department of Energy yesterday released an interim report on 154 experiments involving about 9,000 people, including about 85 studies not previously described in agency or congressional summaries.
Many of the newly disclosed experiments involved early use of low-dose radioactive materials in the study, diagnosis and treatment of disease.
Included is a collaborative study from the early 1970s by researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., and a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, in which radioactively tagged vitamin C was given to Bantu tribesmen with a disease called hemosiderosis.
The disease, then common among the Bantu, is similar to scurvy and the researchers wanted to monitor how the vitamin C, which prevents scurvy, was absorbed by the tribesmen. Brookhaven officials said yesterday that the use of low-dose carbon-14 as a tracer was a routine, accepted research procedure.
Among the other studies not previously made public that were described in the 300-page report released yesterday:
* A 1953 study among healthy prisoners at the Illinois State Penitentiary on their sensitivity to an
anti-malaria drug. As part of the study, the prisoners were transfused with radioactively tagged blood. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital, run by the old Atomic Energy Commission, an Energy Department predecessor.
* A 1963 study by a University of Rochester graduate student who gave milk laced with an iodine-131 tracer to healthy subjects, including several children. One of the children later developed thyroid cancer, although it is not clear whether the radioactive iodine was to blame.
Ellyn Weiss, director of the Energy Department's Office of Human Radiation Experiments, said the number of cataloged experiments is expected to double by the time her office issues a final accounting in June.
Ms. Weiss declined to discuss whether any of the studies were ethically suspect, saying such ethical judgments will be made by a presidential commission that is expected to issue its final report in late spring. That panel is studying whether test subjects were adequately informed of the risks and benefits.
The new Energy Department report does mention several early Atomic Energy Commission letters on research guidelines, including one in 1947 saying that radiation should not be administered to patients without "the expectation that it may have therapeutic benefit."
The exhaustive records search was prompted by newspaper reports last year about subjects who were unwittingly given injections of plutonium during the 1940s. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary pledged to open the agency's files and other federal departments were told by the White House to do the same. In an interim report in October, the presidential commission said it had collected data on about 400 radiation studies sponsored by various federal agencies and was pursuing fragmentary evidence on more than 1,000 others.
To give wider access to its files of radiation studies, the Department of Energy is establishing an Internet data base.
9- The World Wide Web electronic address is: