Suit filed over secret Army testing in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis man has filed a lawsuit against three companies over their roles or alleged roles in secret, military-sponsored chemical testing that was conducted in mostly impoverished areas of the city during the 1950s and ‘60s.

Benjamin Phillips is currently the sole plaintiff in the lawsuit, which was filed in St. Louis Circuit Court. However, his attorney, Elkin Kistner, is seeking to turn it into a class action lawsuit, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/UW1xqN ).

Government contractors sprayed zinc cadmium sulfide from the backs of station wagons, from atop low-income housing projects and at other locations during those early Cold War years. The government conceded in 1994 that the spraying was part of a biological weapons program. St. Louis was picked because its topography was similar to some Russian cities the military thought it might have to attack.

The testing mixed the chemical with fluorescent particles to allow tracking of dispersal patterns. It received renewed interest earlier this fall after publicity about research by Lisa Martino-Taylor, a St. Louis professor, as part of her doctoral thesis.

Publicity about Martino-Taylor’s testing triggered a memory for Phillips, Kistner said. Phillips was a child at the time and grew up in the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. He recalled men in protective suits with machines spewing what seemed like a thick fog of bug spray.

Martino-Taylor’s research highlighted studies showing chronic lung and respiratory problems borne from exposure to zinc cadmium sulfide, though the Army has said that no health consequences had been found in St. Louis.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Parsons Co., a government contractor known to have conducted the tests, and two others that Martino-Taylor named as potential participants based on government records: SRI International, which the suit said may have designed an air-sampling unit to be used in the aerosol studies; and Monsanto, which allegedly offered the government use of its St. Louis plant.

The lawsuit is seeking at least $50,000 in actual damages and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

SRI International said it hasn’t seen any evidence indicating it was involved in the testing, and that it will try to have the company removed from the lawsuit. Monsanto said the lawsuit “does not contain any facts about the alleged conspiracy occurring 50 years ago or more, or Monsanto’s supposed involvement.”

Parsons declined to comment.

Kistner said Phillips had an ear tumor but is unsure if it is linked to the exposure. He said other potential plaintiffs have reached out to him, including a woman whose family members have had cancer.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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