The Impact of World War II on the Land: Gruinard Island, Scotland, and Trinity Site, New Mexico as Case Studies

The Impact of World War II on the Land: Gruinard Island, Scotland, and Trinity Site, New

Mexico as Case Studies

Author(s): Ferenc M. Szasz

Source: Environmental History Review, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Winter, 1995), pp. 15-30

Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of Forest History Society and American Society for Environmental History

Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3984690

Accessed: 03-06-2020 05:19 UTC


Linked references are available on JSTOR for this article: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3984690?seq=1&cid=pdf-reference#references_tab_contents You may need to log in to JSTOR to access the linked references.



The Impact of World War II on the Land: Gruinard Island, Scotland, and Trinity Site, New Mexico as Case Studies

Ferenc M. Szasz University of New Mexico

Historians agree that the Second World War proved one of the mo momentous events in recorded history. The six years of fighting cost

perhaps 60 million civilian and military lives. The major cities of

Dresden, Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki,

just to name a few, were bombed into rubble. When peace arrived in August of 1945, the devastation lay everywhere.

The lost lives could never be reclaimed, but over time the

cities rebounded. Today, only the Frankfurt Museum scale model of

the ruined city center or the bombed-out shell of the A-Bomb Dome in the Hiroshima Peace Park remind the visitor of the events of a half century ago. Battlefields have become farms again, and Tokyo, Dresden, Nagasaki, and Berlin all throng with activity. As poet Carl Sandburg noted in his 1918 poem "Grass": "Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:/ What place is this?/ Vhere are we now?"l

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


Historians have generally agreed that even the cataclysmic events of 1939-1945 involved no permanent alteration to the natural


In spite of this assumption, however, Allied and Axis

experimentation with Chemical/Biological/Radiation (CBR) weapons during the Second World War did alter the natural environment at a number of locations. These include chemical manufacturing plant sites in Missouri; the Edgewood Arsenal, part of the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, in Northeast Maryland, and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado, both of which produced World War II chemical warfare stock; Grand Island, Nebraska, which polluted ground water supplies during the installation of World War II weapons production cycles; the Met Lab in Chicago, Hanford, Washington, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, all of which suffered various forms of radiation seepage; and several oil refinery sites in southern California. There are numerous other similar locations around the nation and the world.3

In general, public awareness of the environmental damage at these locales has been restricted to the region. Few outside the Great Plains are conscious of the problems at Grand Island, just as few outside the Chesapeake Bay area are familiar with the pollution dilemma facing the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. But two of the World War II CBR sites have achieved national reputations. These are Gruinard Island, off the western coast of Scotland, and Trinity Site, in central New Mexico. Not only do Gruinard and Trinity still bear the scars of Allied CBR experiments, they have also taken on symbolic roles for their respective countries.

For almost two generations, British citizens have recognized Gruinard Island as the "Isle of Death," the locus of 1943 Allied open- air experiments with anthrax. Similarly, ever since 1945, Americans have acknowledged that New Mexico's Trinity-the site of the world's first nuclear explosion in July of 1945-marks the opening of the atomic era.

Gruinard and Trinity have achieved these reputations largely through force of circumstance. In each case, the damage to the land

came from a one-time, highly dramatic experiment, a drama that is conspicuously absent from most of the other CBR locales. The chemical contamination of the ground water at Grand Island, for example,

came from production cycles during all three wars: World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. The radiation damage to the environment at Hanford, Rocky Flats, and Los Alamos had a similar fifty-year history. But the dramatic events surrounding both Gruinard and Trinity have

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


allowed them to assume symbolic profiles that the other, often more polluted sites, could never achieve.

Consequently, the stories of Gruinard and Trinity both highlight the situations at a number of other World War II CBR locales. No battles were fought at either place; nor were any human lives lost there. In each situation, the clean-up programs have been extensive. In spite of all these efforts, permanent traces of anthrax at Gruinard and radiation at Trinity yet remain. Because of these remnants, an aura of uncertainty forever surrounds each location.

Gruinard Island is a low-lying isle, about two kilometers long, a brief motor boat ride off the coast of Ross-shire, in western Scotland. The Norse name roughly translates as "the island in the green or shallow fjord." The nearest hamlets are Gairloch to the south and Ullapool to the north. The island served for years as a summer pasture for sheep, a spot to hunt rabbits, and as a favorite local picnic ground. From 1942 to 1988 the island was uninhabited by governmental decree. Large signs proclaimed that Gruinard was government property "under experiment" and that boat landing was forbidden. The reason was straightforward: from 1942 to 1943, British scientists from the Chemical Defence Establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire, used Gruinard to carry out their biological warfare experiments with anthrax spores.

Bacillus anthracis has been a threat to human and animal life for millennia. Anthrax was probably the fifth plague that struck Egypt as related in the Book of Exodus. Mention of it may also be found in such ancient writers as Homer, Hippocrates, Ovid, Galen, and Pliny. As late as the nineteenth century, anthrax epidemics periodically swept across southern Europe. Famed French scientist Louis Pasteur is credited with discovering the complicated and lengthy vaccination against it.

Highly contagious, anthrax chiefly attacks cattle, goats, horses, and sheep. But humans may also catch the disease, either by eating insufficiently cooked contaminated meat; by contact with an infected carcass, usually via an open wound; or, most commonly, by inhaling anthrax spores. "Pulmonary anthrax," the breathing in of these spores can produce pneumonia, hemorrhage, and occasionally death. In earlier times, the symptoms had been termed the "wool sorters' disease." Never before World War II, however, had anthrax been utilized as a weapon in warfare.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


During the early days of the war, British intelligence voiced considerable concern that the Germans were stockpiling both chemical and biological weapons. This fear led the British War Office to select noted bacteriologist Paul Fildes to head Porton Down's biological weapons program. Concentrating on the bacterium that caused anthrax, Fildes's group established the probable inhalation doses that would be necessary to infect livestock; but they needed a field test to confirm their theories. Outdoor experiments at the Porton Down facility itself were impossible due to nearby population. So, in 1942- 43, the government commandeered "X-Base," or Gruinard Island for this purpose.4

In the 1940s, the British had good reasons for concern over

this issue. Not only had the Germans pioneered in the use of mustard

gas during the First World War, their postwar chemical industry, led

by the famed I. G. Farben, was universally acknowledged as the best

in the world. The search for better insecticides during the mid-1930s allowed the Germans to stumble accidentally upon the nerve gasses, sarin, soman, and tabun. In 1934, respected British journalist Henry Wickham Steed alleged that German agents had conducted secret biological warfare experiments in the London Underground, a claim that provoked much discussion on both public and private levels.5

Historians continue to debate why the Germans did not utilize some form of biological or chemical weapons during the last days of World War II. Although the Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibited any such measures, both the Axis powers and the Allies had begun extensive reasearch programs. The German generals obviously had grave concern over their ability to control the weapons once released. But the main reason for the Nazi failure to utilize either biological or chemical weapons lay in the fear of Allied retaliation.

Well aware of their own progress, the Germans assumed that

the British had similar stockpiles at hand. The absence of any related articles in the American agricultural and scientific periodicals confirmed German opinion that the Americans had also begun a top-

secret program to produce nerve gasses.6 In fact, this was incorrect. Neither the Americans nor the British had discovered this process.

Allied biological warfare programs were considerably more successful.

By April of 1943, the Allies had stockpiled 5,000,000 linseed oil cattle

cakes, each laced with a lethal dose of anthrax. The contingency plan

was to air drop the cakes over German farmland in hopes of decimating

the German beef and dairy industry. The British always declared that

they had no intention of inaugurating any such offensive. Later allegations that Prime Minister Winston Churchill once threatened to

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


"drench the Ruhr with anthrax" in retaliation for German V-2 bombing

of London have been proven untrue.7 In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt also warned the Axis powers that while the U.S. would

never initiate any chemical warfare, it would retaliate in kind if it were ever attacked.

On both sides of the European theatre, these threats seemed to work. The British shelved a planned chemical warfare attack because they correctly felt that German capacity far exceeded their own.8 The Germans believed likewise. While each side shipped chemical weapons to the front in preparation, neither wanted to be the first to "go chemical." Japanese plans to attack southern California with plague-infested fleas also never materialized. Fortunately, there was only one accident. In 1943, a German bomb struck an Allied cargo ship at anchor in the Italian port of Bari. The ship was filled with mustard gas shells and several people died from exposure to the chemicals. The incident remained secret for years.9

Thus, it was left to the Soviet and Allied occupation armies to unearth the 250,000 tons of chemical warfare materials (tabun, zyklon, mustard gas, and others) hidden in German warehouses. The armies

of occupation also discovered that it was much easier to manufacture such weapons than it was to dispose of them. As we are now just beginning to discover, the Allies simply dumped them into the North and Baltic Seas.10

No one knew this in the fall of 1943, when a team of Porton Down scientists took their ten-minute boat ride from the mainland jetty to Gruinard to inaugurate Britain's first open-air biological warfare test. After erecting a gantry, they poured a brown slurry laced with anthrax into a can and placed it near an explosive. They then tethered about sixty sheep at various distances. After making certain the wind was blowing away from shore, they electronically detonated the


The release of the airborne anthrax killed all the sheep, most

of them immediately. Afterwards, soldiers burned the carcasses and then buried them under an overhanging cliff. As a further protection, the cliff was then dynamited over the remains. In another Gruinard test, a low flying Wellington bomber dropped an anthrax bomb which, incidentally, buried itself deep into the peat before exploding.'2 The scientists assumed that all 200 hectares of Gruinard had been contaminated. "We were breaking new scientific ground," one of the scientists told a London Times reporter many years later. "No-one in the western world had tried this before. So no-one knew precisely what to expect."'13

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


The British shared all their research data from the Gruinard

tests with the Americans and the Canadians. Consequently, neither

nation conducted any anthrax field test during the conflict.14 Gruinar in a sense, became the Allied Biological Warfare "sacrifice area."

After the armistice, when it became obvious that Gruinard could not

be returned to its original owners, the Maitland family, the British government purchased it for 500 pounds, with the provision that the

owners could re-purchase it at the original price should it ever be

declared safe for habitation.'5

Anthrax proved to be a formidable microorganism. Not only

is it highly contagious, it has the ability to adapt itself into a completely inactive spore. These spores can survive extreme temperatures, including several minutes in boiling water. The spores revert to their vegetative form only when reproductive conditions are favorable.

The cool, moist climate of Gruinard has proven especially favorable to their inactive state. How long the spores will remain dormant became

an open question. Guesses ranged from "years" to "centuries" to "millennia."16

From 1948 to 1968, scientists from Porton Down visited Gruinard annually to test the soils. Their findings revealed that the soil remained contaminated, but they took no precise counts of the actual contamination levels. All official entry to the island was carefully controlled. Visiting scientists had to undergo a six-month course of vaccinations, wear special protective clothing that was later burned, and don respirators. As one microbiologist phrased it after an inspection in the late 1960s, it was "fairly obvious that anthrax spores were going to stay on Gruinard for an awful long time."17

Although clearly signposted, the island remained a menace.

Louis Pasteur had demonstrated that sheep could ingest anthrax spores

by grazing over the graves of long-buried, infected animals. Local

farmers feared that shore birds or even rabbits could spread the

disease to the mainland. One woman recalled how her family's cattle

and sheep has sickened and died a few days after smoke from Gruinard

had drifted over toward her parents' mainland croft. Local shepherd

George MacKenzie bitterly recalled how the great gale of January

1953 blew numerous remnants from the Gruinard testing apparatus

onto the mainland beaches.'8 Fishermen feared that sightseers migh be forced to shelter there in a storm and one German sailor, presumably unable to read the signs, allegedly camped the night there in his

sleeping bag, although he seems to have escaped unharmed. One of

the most bizarre aspects of these experiments came with the ewe and

her lamb who somehow escaped destruction to live out their lives

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


grazing on the north end of the island. As their wool was never sheared, they presented eerie, gargantuan silhouettes to sailors who spotted them at dusk.'9

For years Gruinard Island remained primarily an item of local Scottish fury; residents raged at their treatment as "third world citizens." During the mid-1970s, however, the rise of ecological concerns brought the saga of Gruinard to the attention of the entire British public. Led by local activist John Alex MacRae, residents of nearby Gairloch and Ullapool began to receive a wider hearing. A neighborhood physician said he wished he could lay his hands on the people who first suggested anthrax testing for Gruinard. Another termed the island "a contaminated monster" and damned the government for its misuse of wartime secrecy. The phrase "deadly legacy" became almost a Fleet Street cliche. In 1981, a militant environmental group, Dark Harvest, allegedly took samples of the contaminated soil from Gruinard and dumped it both onto the grounds of Porton Down, as well as the luxurious resort of Blackpool, where the Conservative Party conference had gathered for a meeting. This incident received enormous publicity.20

Under mounting public pressure, the government responded.

In 1979, they authorized the most extensive survey of Gruinard ever

taken. A team of researchers from the Public Health Laboratory at

Porton Down marked the island onto a grid system and took soil samples at regular intervals. After testing the ground in the laboratory for anthrax spores, they compiled a detailed "map" of the infected

area. They discovered, to their delight, that the spores had not "migrated," but lay chiefly in the vicinity of the old gantry and the

sheep tethering grounds. The spores remained largely confined to the

top eighteen inches of soil, but they had lost little potency. Where the

liquid splashed on the earth, there were 45,000 anthrax spores per

gram of soil; in other areas, there were 3,000 spores per gram. The

cool climate helped keep them dormant, but the scientists warned that

under more favorable conditions, say the death of an animal during a

period of warm weather, a second generation of spores could easily


Meanwhile, the government wrestled with a variety of clean-

up proposals. These ranged from concreting over the entire island, designating it a nuclear waste storage area, bombarding the spores with gamma radiation, and loading all the topsoil onto barges and dumping it into the North Atlantic. All were rejected as unacceptable.22 Taking the advice of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, the Ministry

of Defence (MOD) inaugurated a program in 1982 to test six disinfectant

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


solutions against anthrax. They found that while all destroyed the majority of anthrax spores, one solution killed them completely.

Encouraged, the MOD hired a company of environmental

cleaners, Languard Holdings, and selected the most heavily contaminated sections of Gruinard for thorough cleansing. Languard

Holdings personnel first burned off all heather and bracken. Then,

utilizing a special Japanese tubing, they sprayed the soil with a solution

of formaldehyde dissolved in sea water, applying fifty litres to every

square meter of ground. The toxic formaldehyde destroyed the anthrax

spores as well as any vegetation with which it came in contact. But

over time the formaldehyde would be broken down by soil microorganisms to produce harmless carbon dioxide and water.23

The decontamination process was widely reported in all the major

British scientific journals.24 The government also began reseeding the newly decontaminated areas with native vegetation.

In 1987, a flock of sheep were allowed to graze on Gruinard

for the summer. The animals showed no ill effects from the experiment. The cleansing company proudly announced plans to market their

process to other areas of the world where anthrax remained a problem.25 A distinguished British independent Scientific Adv group concurred with the findings. As they stated in their final


On the basis of all of the evidence now available, we believe that the chances of persons or animals contracting anthrax on Gruinard Island are so remote that the island can be returned to civil use.26

Consequently, in mid-May of 1988, the Ministry of Defence officially declared Gruinard Island "safe." The British press was invited in to express their hope that the "Isle of Death" could now begin life anew.27

On the surface, the newly decontaminated Gruinard looked idyllic. After forty years with virtually no human or domesticated animal contact, the vegetation had reverted to a variety of wild plants and flowers. The scenery reminded one reporter of what the Scottish coastline must have looked like before it became heavily grazed.28 Some MPs suggested that the Nature Conservancy Council should take it over and turn the island into a special site for wild life.

But looks may be deceiving. Even after their extensive clean- up, the MOD acknowledged that some anthrax spores introduced during the tests still remained in the Gruinard soil. They concluded that a level of three spores per gram of soil was within safe limits.29

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


Dr. R. J. Manchee of the Chemical Defence Establishment admitted that to say there had been "complete decontamination of the island" would be too difficult to guarantee.30

Thus, even after the warning signs came down, a legacy of

doubt remained. The heirs of the original owners expressed grave reluctance about resuming control of Gruinard, fearing potential lawsuits.3' The British journal New Scientist ran a cartoon of a shorebir wearing a respirator with the caption: "It's an adaptation to life on Gruinard." Even if everything went as predicted, one reporter mused,

"I cannot imagine that anyone will want to live on the island."32

Retired shepherd George MacKenzie put it even more bluntly: "I

don't trust them."33 When or if this uncertainty about Gruinard w disappear remains unclear.

Trinity Site lies in the high desert of central New Mexico, about thirty miles east of Socorro, in what is now the White Sands Missile Range. The region is so desolate that early Spanish travellers on the Camino Real once termed it Jornada del Muerto, "the journey of the dead man." The world's first atomic bomb was detonated here- on July 16, 1945-and that event permanently altered the face of the globe.34

By mid-1944, Allied scientists at the secret city of Los Alamos, New Mexico,35 had decided that the plutonium version of the atomic bomb under construction required a field test before any combat use.

The Los Alamos scientists were confident that the proposed uranium weapon, eventually dropped on Hiroshima, would work as planned. The uranium bomb was never field-tested. But the triggering mechanism of the plutonium weapon-termed "implosion"-had proven so complex that the scientists insisted upon a trial run. They argued that if the bomb did not detonate as expected, "the enemy" might reassemble the components and drop it on an Allied target.

Thus, in May of 1944, test site Director Kenneth T. Bainbridge joined Los Alamos Lab Director J. Robert Oppenheimer in the first of many searches for an appropriate location.36 The site needed to be in a sparsely populated area, relatively near Los Alamos, accessible to road and rail lines, and suitable for extensive photographic coverage.

In addition, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes had insisted that no Native American group be removed because of the experiment.

Southwestern locations under consideration included: the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, near the Great Sand Dunes,

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


and the Mal Pais lava beds south of Grants, New Mexico. Los Alamos photographer and El Paso native Berlyn Brixner always felt that his strong disapproval of the Mal Pais area-the hills would make photography difficult-tipped the vote to the Jornada.37 Since the region had already been commandeered by the govemment for temporary use as a bombing and gunnery range, it proved relatively easy to shift a small portion to the control of Los Alamos.

Thus, in February, 1945, Los Alamos scientists began constructing the world's largest outdoor laboratory in the high desert of central New Mexico. This involved building numerous roads, a base camp with bunks and a mess hail, a number of unoccupied bunkers filled with cameras and various recording instruments, three gigantic earth-and-concrete observation bunkers, and a 100-foot steel tower at ground zero, on which "the gadget"-the scientists' code name for the bomb-would be placed.38

At 5:29:45 AM, Mountain War Time, the world's first atomic

weapon lit up the New Mexico sky. The mushroom cloud rose over

40,000 feet in about seven minutes, with the major section drifting in a north-northeast direction. The blast was visible in three states and

could easily have been viewed from another planet. The heat completely vaporized the steel tower. Wherever the ball of fire touch the earth, it fused the top levels of sand and soil into a radioactive greenish-gray glass later called "atomsite" or "trinitite." The gigantic

cloud sucked up tons of dirt particles that slowly returned to earth as radioactive fallout. The scientists' experiment at Trinity Site altered

the New Mexico landscape, but the exact nature of the change remained unknown for several years.

After the Trinity test proved that the plutonium bomb would work, military interest in the site declined.39 Radiation specialist Richard Watts patrolled the region for two weeks taking extensive measurements, and Louis Hempelmann's Los Alamos Health Group

also made periodic regional spot checks over the next months. Los

Alamos also erected an eight-foot wire fence, 1600 feet in radius,

around ground zero, posted warning signs in both Spanish and English, and stationed a small MP contingent to keep away sightseers. Two months after the test Los Alamos estimated that the radiation intensities in the region that lay in cloud's path had fallen to "about tolerance levels."40 Health physicists also maintained a close watch on the radiation dosage received by the c. 1000 people involved with the

actual test, plus the c. 115 who visited the site in 1946, none of whom entered the fenced-in area.41 It was not until the summer of 1947,

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


however, that scientists began systematically to study what the blast had done to the New Mexico environment.

The chief instigator of this program was the Dean of the

UCLA Medical School, Stafford Warren.42 A veteran radiologist with Los Alamos experience, as well as one of the first physicians to visit Hiroshima after the war, Warren convinced the reluctant Atomic

Energy Commission (AEC) that such a study was desirable, if only to

obviate potential future legal problems. Soon, Warren pulled together

a varied team of investigators, the most prominent of whom was

Kermit Larson. Based at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during the war,

Larson had become skilled in radiation health safety measurements

during the 1946 Bikini tests in the South Pacific. A self-described

"farm boy" from North Dakota, he also had considerable experience

with soil chemistry.43 The UCLA teams visited the Trinity area every summer from 1947-1951; from 1947-1949 their reports were classified

secret. Only thirteen copies of each report were ever printed.

The first investigative teams found the fence around ground zero clogged with slightly radioactive tumbleweeds. The "sea of green" (trinitite) was still clearly visible, with much of the almost circular splash pattern yet intact. The trinitite had proven fragile, however, and most of it had crumbled into pieces of about two to three inches; the largest piece they found in 1947 was 4-inches by 8- inches. Dividing the region into five main sections, the scientists concentrated their efforts on (a) the fenced-in area where the fireball

hit the ground and (b) the land over which the main portion of the blast cloud had moved, especially the Chapudera Mesa, a five-to- seven-thousand-foot ridge to the northeast that served as the chief grazing area for the region.

Hopping fences and eluding local ranchers, the scientists took extensive earth samples. They captured several hundred birds, rodents and reptiles, autopsied them, and sent them to California for further tests. Scooping up pounds of trinitite, they ground it to the consistency of clay and fed it to rats for an extended period. They also tried to grow various desert plants in boxes of Trinity soil. In addition, they purchased several head of cattle that had been grazing on the Chapudera Mesa and trucked them to Albuquerque for slaughter.

As expected, the region inside the fence proved the most dangerous. In 1947, Larson found radioactivity there at a depth of 42 inches below the surface. He concluded that this was neutron-induced radiation, and that the neutrons would continue to penetrate the earth until they had used up all their energy.44 The fenced-in area would remain forever radioactive.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


Contrary to expectations, the scientists also discovered considerable evidence of fallout scattered all through the region. Larson found unfissioned plutonium over 100 miles northeast of ground zero; he also discovered traces of it in desert rats, in the soil, and on the leaves of the plants. No amount of washing could completely remove the plutonium particles from the leaves. While the radioactive contamination seemed to be concentrated in the upper one to two inches of soil, some feared that it might be steadily migrating downward. Stafford Warren noted that "it was quite obvious that there was an extensive contamination of the [Chapudera] Mesa."45

The early secret reports reflected a great deal of uncertainty about the significance of the discoveries outside the fenced-in area. The picture did not become clear until 1952 when the UCLA scientists concluded that the fallout had experienced great difficulty entering into the region's ecology. The Chapudera Mesa cattle registered such low levels of activity that scientists deemed them safe for human consumption. Because the plutonium and other particles remained in the top levels of soil-well above the deep root levels of the desert plants-the radiation had not entered the food chain of the region. Or so they concluded in 1952.

While Warren urged further visits to the Trinity area as the best "case study" of fallout patterns, the military and the health physics directors of the AEC felt differently. Exposure levels were so low, they argued, that the radiation should not have bothered anyone. Since New Mexico reported no health problems, the AEC hesitated to

stir up trouble. Warren viewed the Trinity region as an exciting research project, but the AEC had no interest in rocking the boat.46 Thus, the financial support disappeared. It remained for health physicists at the newly created Nevada Test Site to address the dilemmas first raised by the 1947-51 Trinity surveys.

With ground zero securely fenced in and the Chapudera Mesa

cattle deemed acceptable, the chief long-term, regional concern rested

with the fierce valley winds. The 1950 UCLA team, for example, lived

through seven dust storms during their five-week stay. The storms all reached wind speeds of 35-55 miles per hour, and no two came from

the same direction. As Dr. Albert W. Bellamy wrote to Stafford Warren, "The entire valley-some 3,000,000 acres-is on the move There is little doubt that this UCLA report caused Los Alamos to

scrape the trinitite into large barrels and bury it in the vicinity. Although their reports expressed some uncertainty, the team officially concluded in 1950 that "It is apparent from the data presented that no

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


hazard from external total body exposure to penetrating ionization radiation (gamma rays) exists any place outside of the fenced areas."48 Trinity Site received sporadic assessment over the years, but it was not until 1967 that scientists accorded the region a major re- examination. That year Los Alamos physicist Frederick L. Fey made a thorough health physics survey of the area because of increased pressure from the National Park Service to open Trinity Site as a National Monument.49 In truth, the Park Service had been interested in this theme ever since the end of the war. In 1952, when the AEC wanted to cover the Trinity Site crater with fresh topsoil, both the

governor of New Mexico and a congressman protested.50 In 1965,

AEC historian Richard Hewlett listed Trinity as the most likely Manhattan Project site to be so commemorated.5' For understandable reasons, the commander of White Sands Missile Range was less than enthusiatic about the idea. Finally, the Army and the Park Service

reached a compromise. In 1965, a small, permanent monument was

erected at Trinity Site and in 1976 Trinity was designated a National

Historic Landmark. Since 1980, there have been no plans to include it

in the National Park system.52

As part of the compromise, the Army opens Trinity Site twice a year to visitors, in early spring and late fall, when the heat is more bearable. Special groups also have occasional access to it. Although Fey's final report concluded that "it does not appear that anyone could receive any radiation injury through a visit to Trinity Site," the Army remains cautious.53 The brochures they give to all visitors forbid eating or drinking within the fenced-in area, as well as the picking up of any trinitite. They also discourage pregnant women and young children from even entering the region. All visits are limited to less than three hours. The Army accepts the fact that the fenced-in area at Trinity will remain moderately radioactive for the foreseeable future.

The Allied wartime experiments on Gruinard Island, Scotland,

and Trinity Site, New Mexico have permanently altered the soil in

these regions. Some anthrax spores introduced into Gruinard will

remain for millennia. The fenced-in area at Trinity will require monitoring as long as there are citizens to monitor it. Although the

clean-up has been extensive in each case, no possible cleansing operation can remove the last anthrax spore or the last bit of plut

Consequently, the second legacy of these CBR World War II experiments-the nagging question of uncertainty-remains very much alive in both areas. The gap between the official position voiced

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


by Porton Down and the sentiments of local Scottish residents is

unlikely to be bridged by further government study. Since the fenced- in area of Trinity Site lies within the White Sands Missile Range, with

only controlled civilian access, local New Mexican reaction has assumed

a different form. Even the MacDonald family, ranchers from whom

the land was originally confiscated, have accepted the fact that the

region can never again revert to ranch use. The issues of possible

health damage from the Trinity blast have generally remained private, rather than public, concerns.54 The situation is often masked by ironic local humor: "Don't eat any carrots grown over ground zero." Thus,

the legacy of uncertainty at Gruinard and Trinity may prove almost as enduring as the anthrax and radiation added to the land itself.

Carl Sandurg, "Grass," in Louis Untermeyer, ed., A Treasury of Great Poems, English and American (NJ ew York: Simon and Schuster, 1952), 1095.

Geoffrey Best, "The Historical Evolution of Culture Norms Relating to War and the Environment,"

in Arthur H. Westing, ed., Cultural Norns, War and the Environment (Oxford: Oxford University

Press, 1988), 19. There is an emerging literature on the landscape of war. See Peter Goin, Nuclear Landscapes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), and Patrick Nagatani, Nuclear Enchantment (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991).

3 Tracy Linn Wit, "The Social and Economic Impact of World War II Munitions Manufacture on Grand Island, Nebraska," Nebraska History 71 (Fall, 1990):151-163.

In The American West Transformed: The Impact of the Second World War (Lincoln: University of

Nebraska Press, 1985), 64-65, Gerald D. Nash also discusses air pollution in Los Angeles. Nash is currently serving as historical consultant for several oil companies in cases that harken back to

ground pollution from the war years. Although much of the damage occurred after 1945, journalists

have described both the Rocky Flats area and Jefferson Proving Grounds of southeastem Indiana (a

weapons testing facility) as the most polluted regions on earth. See the dramatic account by Seth

Shulman, The Threat at Home: Confronting the Toxic Legacy of the U.S. Military (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 3-8; 55-57; Hanford, Washington has even been described as a "national sacrifice area." See

Michele Stenehjem Gerber, On the Home Front: The Cold War Legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Site

iLincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992).

G. B. Carter, "Biological Warfare and Biological Defence in the United Kingdom, 1940-1979," RUSI

Journal (December, 1992), 67-70. See also Carter's book-length study, Porton Down (London: HMSO,

1992), 39-54.

5 Robin Clarke, We All Fall Down: The Prospect of Biological and Chemical Warfare (London: Allen Lane; The Penguin Press, 1968), 2. Wickham Steed's essay, "Aerial Warfare: Secret German Plans," appeared in The Nineteenth Century and After (1934), 116, No. 689, 1-16. See G. B. Carter, "Biological Warfare and Biological Defence in the United Kingdom, 1940-1979," 73.

6 Clarke, We All Fall Down, 35.

7 R. V. Jones, "Churchill's Anthrax Bombs: A Debate," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 43 (November, 1987), 42-45; Julian Lewis, Changing Direction: British Military Planningfor Post-War Strategic Defence, 1942-1947 (London: The Sherwood Press, 1988), Appendix 8, 388-405.

8 Amoretta M. Hoeber, The Chemistry of Defeat: Asymmetrics in U.S. and Soviet Chemical Warfare Postures (Cambridge, MA and Washington, D.C.: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, Inc., 1981),

32-33. In February, 1944 Lord Cherwell told Winston Churchill that anthrax bombs could cause destruction similar to an atomic weapon. R. V. Jones, Reflections on Intelligence (London: Mandarin,

1990), 252.

9 James F. Dunnigan and Albert A. Nofi, Dirty Little Secrets of World War II (New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1994), 241-242. The Japanese experiments with CW and BW through their

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


infamous Unit 731 are just now bein in Germany and Japan (New York: "Japan Confronting Gruesome War 10PhillipKnightley,"DumpsofDe 11 Lynne Roberts, "The Deadly Legac

15, 1981,20.

12 Alisdair Stirling, "Anthrax Island Clean-up," Geographical Magazine 58 (October, 1986), 493-94; New Scientist 111 (July 17, 1986),17; New Scientist 110 (May 22, 1986), 21.

13 Roberts, "Deadly Legacy," quoted, 23.

14 Canadian National Archives, Record Group 165, Records and General Special Staff Records (Entry 488), Files of George W. Merck, Special Consultant, 1942-1946, Box 186, "British Liaison

Files." B. W. (44) 14, 23 August 1944, Post War Work on Biological Warfare (Note by Dr. Paul

Fildes). Source shared by Donald Avery of the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario.

15 New Scientist 111 (July 17, 1986), 59.

16 Joseph D. Douglas, Jr., and Niel C. Livingstone, The Threat of Chemical and Biological Warfare (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath, 1987), 186; Roberts, "Deadly Legacy," 20-27, Sunday Times, July 24,

1983, 7g.

17 Roberts, "Deadly Legacy," quoted, 27.

18 Interview with George MacKenzie, retired Highland shepherd, 30 June 1994, Ulapool, Scotland. MacKenzie's brother was the last person to herd sheep on Gruinard before the government took it

over. See also the interviews with local residents in Leonard A. Cole, Clouds of Secrecy (Savage, MD: Littlefield, Adams Quality Paperback, 1990), 23-32.

19 Steve Connor, "The Day We Went to Gruinard," New Scientist 111 (July 24, 1986), 58; MacKenzie interview.

20 London Times, July 27, 1982, Sb; Roberts, "Deadly Legacy," 28. Although there was no proof, local sentiment credited activist John Alec MacRae as one of the driving forces behind this maneuver. 21 R. J. Manchee et al., "Bacillus Anthracis on Gruinard Island," Nature 294 (19 November 1981), 254. 22 Sunday Times, July 24, 1983, 7g. Interview with Dr. Gradon B. Carter (telephone) 13 July 1994. Carter is a public relations specialist at Porton Down.

23 Sterling, "Anthrax Island Clean-up," 494; London Times, May 19, 1983, 2h; Carter, Porton Down,


24 R. J. Manchee et al., "Bacillus Anthracis on Gruinard Island," Nature 294 (19 November 1981), 254-


R. J. Manchee et al., "Decontamination of Bacillus Anthracis on Gruinard Island," Nature 303 (19

May 1983), 234-40; R. J. Manchee and W. D. P. Stewart, "The Decontamination of Gruinard Island," Chemistry in Britain (uly, 1988); John Miles et al., "Ecological Effects of Killing Bacillus Anthracis on Gruinard Island with Formaldehyde," Reclamation and Revegetation Research 6 (1988), 271-83.

25 London Times, May 18, 1988,4c. One potential customer was the Sovet Union, which, in 1979 had a major accident with anthrax weapons in the closed city of Sverdlovsk. Nature 332 (April 21, 1988), 674.

26 Quoted in Graham S. Pearson, "Gruinard Island Retums to Civil Use," ASA Newsletter 20

(October 6, 1990), 8-10.

97 Peter Macaulay, "Opening Up the Isle of Death," Sunday Times, July 24, 1983, 7g. "Gruinard

Island Decontamination Treatment Successful," Ministry of Defence News Release, 15/87,9 April

1987; "MOD to Hand Back Gruinard Island," Ministry of Defence News Release, 15/90, 18 April

1990. Copies supplied by MOD.

28 Connor, "The Day We Went to Gruinard," 59.

29 New Scientist 112 (December 11, 1986), 31.

30 London Times, May 19,1983, 2h.

31 Aberdeen Press and lournal, February 28, 1990, 1.

32 New Scientist 110 (June 19, 1986), 73; New Scientist 110 (June 5, 1986), 67.

33 MacKenzie interview.

34 See Ferenc Morton Szasz, The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion, July 16,1945 (Albuquerque: The University of New Mexico Press, 1984; 1995).

5 For a study of the region, see Hal K. Rothman, On Rims and Ridges: The Los Alamos Area Since 1880

6incoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992).

Kenneth T. Bainbridge, "Prelude to Trinity," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists XXXI (April,

1975), 44-45; Bainbridge, Trinity (Los Alamos: LA-6300-H), 3.

37 Interview with Berlyn Brixner, Los Alamos, February 24,1983.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 03 Jun 2020 05:19:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms


38 Two good accounts are Lansing Lamont, Day of Trinity (N Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986).

39 The Reminiscences of Kenneth T. Bainbridge, Columbia Oral History Office, Columbia University,


40 V. Weisskopf, J. Hoffman, P. Abersold, and L. Hempelmann to G. Kistiakowsky, 5 September

1945. In 322, Trinity Measurements, Box 13, Los Alamos National Archives, Los Alamos.

41 Carl Maag and Steve Rohrer, Project Trinity, 1945-1946. United States Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons

Tests; Nuclear Test Personnel Review (Washington: Defense Nuclear Agency, 1983), 1, 51. As Barton

C. Hacker has shown, early concern for individual health safety remained at a fairly high level.

Hacker, The Dragon's Tail: Radiation Safety in the Manhattan Project, 1942-1946. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

42 See Stafford Warren, Oral Reminiscences, UCLA Special Collections.

43 Interviews with Kermit Larson, April 26, 1982; May 21, 1982.

44 Reminiscences of Stafford Warren, 912; 1152; Larson interviews. See also Kermit H. Larson, Continental Close-In Fallout: Its History, Measurement and Characteristics (Report for Dames & Moore,

Seattle, Washington, c. 1959), 2.

45 K. H. Larson et al., The 1949 and 1950 Radiological Soil Survey of Fission Product Contamination and

Some Soil-Plant Interrelationships of Areas in New Mexico Affected by the First Atomic Bomb Detonation

(UCLA School of Medicine Report, 1951), 72; Reminiscences of Stafford Warren, 1175-77; Larson

interviews. See also William L. Graf, Plutonium and the Rio Grande: Environmental Change and

Contamination in the Nuclear Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

46 The 1948 Radiological and Biological Survey of Areas in New Mexico Affected by the First Atomic Bomb Detonation (1949) (Report by the UCLA School of Medicine, 1949), 22.

47 K. H. Larson et al., Alpha Activity Due to the 1945 Atomic Bomb Detonation at Trinity, Alamogordo,

New Mexico (1951), 40.

48 Larson et al., The 1949 and 1950 Radiological Soil Survey, 76.

49 Frederick L. Fey, Jr., Health Physics Survey of Trinity Site (UCLA: 1967), LA-3719.

50 Santa Fe New Mexican, April 3, 1952.

51 Memorandum on National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings; Atomic Energy Sites, April 19,

1965, in Historic Landmark File, National Park Service, Southwest Region, Santa Fe.

52 Memorandum from the Regional Director (Leslie P. Arnberger) to Chief, Office of Park Planning

and Environmental Quality, April 11, 1980. Archives, National Park Service, Southwest Region,

Santa Fe, NM.

53 Fey, Health Physics Survey of Trinity Site, 8.

54 Szasz, The Day the Sun Rose Twice, 143. The Raitliffe family, who lived in the notorious "hot cannon," probably received the highest exposure to fallout from any American above-ground test.

They, however, have completely disappeared from the records. Other New Mexicans, such as the

Ted Coker, Holm Bursom, and Dora Chavez families, suffered the loss of family members to cancer.

Without adequate public health records, however, it is difficult conclusively to link these deaths to

the Trinity Site explosio