Utah Department of Administrative Services

Division of Archives & Records Service

Series 11571

Department of Health Sheep radiation studies

Dates: 1953-1955.

0.35 cubic foot and 1 microfilm reelSkip to Containers

These records are housed in the Utah State Archives' permanent storage room.

Scope and Content

In the spring of 1953 sheep owners in the Cedar City area suffered unusually large losses in their herds. While the winter and spring of 1952 and 1953 had been dry, most livestock men had provided supplemental feed and water to the herds that were wintered in the mountains of southern Nevada (before they were moved to the higher elevation mountains near Cedar City in the spring). In addition to the deaths, many of the animals suffered from unusual burns on their bodies and faces. These beta burns were reminiscent of those seen in cattle near the Trinity nuclear test site in New Mexico, as well as horse herds living near the Nevada Test Site (NTS). This led many to the conclusion that the sheep losses were directly tied to above ground atmospheric testing that had taken place at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), with Operation Tumbler-Snapper in 1952 and Operation Upshot-Knothole in 1953. Approximately 11,710 sheep were wintered within 40 miles north and 160 miles east of the NTS in 1953, and of that number 1420 lambing ewes and 2970 died.

The first veterinarians outside of the Cedar City region to investigate the mysterious sheep deaths were John Curtis and F.H. Melvin, who were assisted by the Bureau of Animal Industry (under the Department of Agriculture). Both were concerned with the possibility that radiation had played a role in the sheep deaths (and what that could mean for the human populations of southern Nevada and Utah). Subsequently, both returned to Salt Lake City and voiced their concerns to the director the Utah Department of Health, Dr. George A. Spendlove. Based on their reports, Spendlove immediately requested epidemic aid from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS).

In early June the USPHS sent three investigators to Cedar City. These representatives included Monroe A. Holmes (a veterinarian for the Public Health Service Communicable Disease Center), Arthur H. Wolff (a veterinary radiologist at the Environmental Health Center), and William G. Hadlow (a veterinary pathologist at the Public Health Service Rocky Mountain Lab). When the USPHS representatives arrived in Cedar City they were joined by two investigators from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the agency responsible for administering nuclear tests at the NTS. These AEC representatives included Major R.J. Veenstra (an Army veterinarian attached to the Naval Radiological Defense Lab in San Francisco), and R.E. Thompsett (a veterinarian on contract with the AEC who ran a private practice in Los Alamos, New Mexico).

The team of USPHS and AEC investigators observed sick lambs in Cedar City and initially concluded that radiation and malnutrition were the most likely candidates for problems afflicting the herds. Melvin A. Holmes wrote a report concluding that radiation and malnutrition were the likely causes (but with no clear decision naming one as the primary cause). This report brought together work from seven different agencies who were involved with analyzing the sheep losses in Cedar City. These agencies included the USPHS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Animal Industry, the AEC, the University of Utah Medical School, the Utah Agricultural College, and the Utah Department of Health. In addition to the main report, individual reports were filed by Wolff, Veenstra, and Thompsett, each of which mentioned radiation more prominently as the likely cause of the sheep deaths. These reports were immediately classified by the AEC and not provided to Cedar City sheep owners or local authorities (including Iron County Extension Agent Stephen L. Brower).

The AEC was loathe to compensate for livestock losses based on harmful radiation based on the precedent it would have set for future claims of loss from exposure to fallout from tests at the NTS. This led to the AEC organizing a second investigation of the sheep herd losses in Cedar City in the summer of 1953. The investigators used in the second investigation had much closer ties to the AEC than those in the first. They included Dr. Paul B. Pearson (chief of the AEC Division of Biology and Medicine), Lieutenant Colonel Bernard F. Trum (an Army veterinarian assigned tot he AEC agricultural research program at Oak Ridge, Tennessee), and Lieutenant Colonel John Rust (also of the AEC agricultural research program at Oak Ridge). This second investigatory group placed exclusive focus on malnutrition as the primary cause, and had no contact with members of the first investigation. In a later court case Stephen Brower recalled a conversation with Paul Pearson in which the latter claimed that the AEC couldn't expose itself to the risks of setting a precedent in paying sheep owners for their losses. Instead he suggested that the AEC might help fund a range study (again reinforcing the malnutrition narrative). The AEC did subsequently provide $25,000 for a range study in the Cedar City and Nevada areas used by the sheepmen.

In August of 1953 all of the participants from the first and second investigations met in Salt Lake City to review the evidence from both studies. At this meeting there was concerted effort placed on the first group of investigators to abandon their position that radiation was a primary contributing cause to the sheep deaths.

On August 9, 1953, Paul Pearson met with livestock owners in Cedar City to discuss the second group of investigators findings. At that time malnutrition and disease in the herd were cited as the likely culprits. It was also at this time that AEC officials began advancing the premise that radiation levels from the NTS tests were too low to cause radiation poisoning in the sheep herds. In order to validate this claim separate radiation studies were conducted on sheep herds in Los Alamos, New Mexico and Hanford, Washington. Sheep in these studies were exposed to varying levels of radiation and the effects were documented.

On October 27, 1953 members of both studies and AEC officials met in Los Alamos to again review evidence from the studies, as well as the evidence from the sheep radiation tests from Los Alamos and Hanford. The secretary for the meeting was AEC official Charles Dunning, who subsequently drafted a short report stating that the expert opinion held that there was a preponderance of evidence against fallout as a contributing cause in the sheep deaths. This report was signed by those in attendance, but the strong dissenting opinions from outside the AEC (primarily from Veenstra, Holmes, and Thompsett) remained.

The records in this series include correspondence, memorandum, meeting minutes, and reports from the various investigators and agencies involved with the sheep death investigations that took place in Cedar City in 1953 and 1954. The study papers and compiled reports found here were collected by the Utah Department of Health, and highlight the questions surrounding radioactive fallout from the Nevada Test Site and its contributing role in the heavy losses of sheep in 1953 among herds that were wintered in areas downwind of the site.

Arrangement

Numerical by document stamp number.

Research Note

The following source was used to help draft this finding aid: Fradkin, Philip L. Fallout. Boulder: Johnson Books, 2004.

Research Note

With the resumption of atmospheric tests as part of the Operation Teapot test series at the NTS in 1955, Cedar City sheep owners who had suffered heavy losses in 1953 filed suit against the AEC for $177,000 in damages. This led to AEC and Justice Department lawyers placing heavy pressure on members of the first investigation to officially change their position on radiation as a primary cause (in order for the government to put up a unified front as defendant). R.E. Thompsett (of the first investigation team) was heavily dependent on AEC money to fund a private animal hospital in Los Alamos, and eventually went on the record as abandoning his belief that radiation was a contributing cause. At the same time both Monroe A. Holmes and R.J. Veenstra (also of the first investigation team) agreed to disqualify themselves as expert witnesses if called upon to testify. The trial took place in federal court in September of 1956 and lasted fourteen days. The government was represented by John Finn of the Justice Department's Torts section, while the sheep owners were represented by Dan S. Bushnell. The judge presiding over the case was A. Sherman Christensen. The governments defense (backed by expert witnesses and unclassified records) maintained that fallout levels from the Upshot-Knothole Test Series were too low to cause the sheep deaths and that the junction of fallout from NTS and the sheep deaths was purely a coincidence. Judge Christensen sided with the expert testimony provided by the AEC and said that the government was negligent in not warning sheep owners of potential fallout, but nothing more.

Research Note

In 1979 another court case was brought to federal court, this time arguing that fallout from the Nevada Test Site was responsible for the death and suffering of human inhabitants of the downwind area south and east of the NTS. At this time records that had formerly been classified became public and the extent of the AEC cover-up with the sheep case came to light. Original records from the sheep studies revealed that the radiation dose levels in the thyroids of the effected Cedar City sheep were nearly 1000 times the permissible dose for humans. Records also revealed the extent to which AEC officials went to get members of the first investigation team to change their opinion of radiation as a primary cause in the sheep herd losses. In February of 1981 six of the original plaintiffs from the 1955 lawsuit brought a new suit to federal court asking for a new trial. They claimed that fraud had been committed upon the court by AEC and Justice Department officials. Judge A. Sherman Christensen heard the case again and the plaintiffs were again represented by Dan S. Bushnell. A settlement was extended to the government of three million dollars for damages, but government representatives refused the offer. Evidence was heard over four days in May of 1982 and Christensen delivered his decision in August. Christensen ruled that at the time of the sheep radiation studies the AEC held monopoly on information and that government experts and attorneys had deliberately acted to withhold certain pieces of that information from the court. Christensen ordered that a new trial was to be held, but that decision was overturned on appeal by the Tenth Circuit Appeals Court in Denver. Eventually the case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the Tenth Circuit decision was sustained by a 5-3 vote in January of 1986. Chief Justice Warren Burger (who had served as head of the Justice Departments Civil Division at the time of the original sheep case in 1955) disqualified himself from making a formal decision in the case.

Research Note

In addition to paper and microfilm holdings, this series also contains a set of five microfiche cards. The majority of these cards contain photographic negatives of the sheep herds that were examined by U.S. Public Health Service and Atomic Energy Commission Investigators. Also present is a document level synopsis of the records in this series that was completed on February 14, 1979 by Irvin C. McClay of the Utah State Archives. Extreme care should be taken in handling fiche material as they are master copies (with no known duplicates).

Related Records

Radiation study radiological surveillance reports from the Division of Health, Series 1603, contains raw data from radiological studies conducted by the Utah Department of Health.

Radiation records from the Governor Matheson, Series 4470, contains a 1979 summary and synopsis based on the 1953 report found in this series.

Radiation studies from the Division of Health, Series 14086, contains other radiation study records created by the Utah Department of Health.

Custody History

Records were transferred to Utah State Archivist, T. Harold Jacobsen on February 11, 1982 by Department of Health representative Wanless Southwick.

Additional Forms

This series is available on microfilm.

Access Restrictions

Microfiche holdings require staff assistance due to fewer reference copies. Handle masters under supervision.

Preferred Citation

Cite the Utah State Archives and Records Service, the creating agency name, the series title, and the series number.

Gaps in Series

The numbering of documents in this series was done by the office of Governor Scott Matheson prior to the release of the records in 1979. The records were microfilmed at the same time, and names were blocked out on the microfilm (that still appear on the paper copies). A statement at the beginning of the microfilm advises that certain documents were missing at the time of microfilming, and that the Governor's office was unsure whether these missing records were lost or the result of a machine error in numbering. The documents numbers missing in both paper and microfilm are 39, 48, and 50.

Processing Note

The paper and microfilm holdings for this series were processed by Jim Kichas in May 2012.

Processing Note

Microfiche processed by Rebekkah Shaw under the National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant to the Utah State Archives and Records Services for the Utah Microfiche Backlog Project (Grant No.: NAR10-RB-50086-10). July 2010 - December 2011

Indexing Terms

Container List

REEL BOX FOLDER DOCUMENT DATE DESCRIPTION
N/A 1 1 N/A 1982 Feb 11 Memorandum Transferring Record Custody to the Utah State Archives
N/A 1 2 N/A 1953-1955 Classified Record Notification on Index Card
N/A 1 3 N/A 1953 Photo Slides of Sheep With Beta Burns
1 N/A N/A N/A 1979 Governor's Office - Message of Records Release
1 1 4 1-32 1953 May 6 Co-Operative Field Survey of Sheep Deaths in Southwest Utah (Cedar City) by Monroe A. Holmes
1 1 5 33-36 1953 Jul 21 Radiobiology Lab Report by Radiochemist Betsy J. Stover (University of Utah College of Medicine)
1 1 6 37-38 1953 D.A. Greenwood Chemical Analysis Report
1 1 7 40-42 1953-1955 Maps of Sheep Herd Locations
1 1 8 43 1953 Newspaper Clippings
1 1 9 44-47 1953 Photographs of Horses With Beta Burns
N/A 1 10 49 1953 AEC Map - Fallout Pattern for the Upshot-Knothole Test Series
1 1 11 51 1953-1955 Map of Sheep Herd Locations
N/A 1 12 52-53 1953 W.J. Hadlow Necropsy Report on Douglas Corry Sheep
1 1 13 54-60 1953 Jun 6-Jun 7 Sheep Serum Samples Report
1 1 14 61 1953 Jun 5-Jun 6 Hematological Findings (Oxalated Samples)
1 1 15 62-78 1953 W.J. Hadlow Necropsy Reports on Corry Ewes 6 and 7
1 1 16 79 1953 Jun 4 Federal Security Agency Route Slip to Dr. Monroe A. Holmes
1 1 17 80-81 1953 Jun 4 Epidemic Aid Request from Utah Department of Health Director, Dr. George A. Spendlove to the CDC Public Health Service
1 1 18 82 1953 Jun 9 University of Utah College of Medicine Correspondence Concerning the Test Shot Schedule at the Nevada Test Site
1 1 19 83 1953 Jun 10 Preliminary Report of Radioassays of Selected Tissue Specimens of Sheep
1 1 20 84 1953 Jun 10 Arthur H. Wolff Correspondence on Sheep Hypothyroidism to Dr. William Hadlow
1 1 21 85-87 1953 Jun 11-Jul 16 Correspondence with Nevada Agencies on Sheep Loss
1 1 22 88-97 1953 Jun Data on Sheep Loss
1 1 23 98-100 1953 Jun 19 Report by R.J. Veenstra on Examination of Animals in the Nevada Proving Grounds
1 1 24 101-103 1953 Jun 23 Report from W.T. Huffman to Dr. H.W. Schoeing Concerning Sheep Herd Conditions
1 1 25 104-105 1953 Jun 24 Correspondence and Preliminary Report from Arthur H. Wolff to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Sheep Samples
1 1 26 106-108 1953 Jun 24 Correspondence and Report from F.H. Melvin to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Sheep Herd Conditions
1 1 27 109 1953 Jun 24 Correspondence from Monroe A. Holmes to Dr. W.T. Huffman Concerning Reports and News Releases
1 1 28 110-125 1953 Jul 3 Correspondence and Reports from James E. Reeves to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Sheep Studies
1 1 29 126 1953 Jul 9 Correspondence from Monroe A. Holmes to Vernon Metcalf Concerning an Information Request on Nevada Sheep
1 1 30 127-131 1953 Jul 16 Utah Department of Health Correspondence to Sheep Owners with Handwritten Replies
1 1 31 132-133 1953 Jul 10 Correspondence from W.J. Hadlow to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Pathology Report Findings
1 1 32 134 1953 Jul 20 Handwritten Correspondence from Cattleman Roy E. Lytle to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Herd Conditions
1 1 33 135-138 1953 Jul 20 Correspondence and L.A. Stoddart Report from D.A. Broadbent to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Livestock and Range Conditions
1 1 34 139 1953 Jul 21 Correspondence from Betsy J. Stover to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Tissue/Excreta Samples
1 1 35 140-147 1953 Jul 27 Livestock Examination Data from Dee. A Broadbent to Monroe A. Holmes
1 1 36 148-155 1953 Aug 9 AEC, Utah State Health Department, Public Health Department, and Sheep Owner Meeting Notes
1 1 37 156-160 1953 Aug 25-Oct 29 Statements from Livestock Owners
1 1 38 161 1953 Sep 4 Correspondence and Final Report on Sheep Disease Investigation Submission from James Steele
1 1 39 162 1953 Sep 9 Correspondence from James G. Terrill to Arthur H. Wolff Concerning the Exchanging of Reports
1 1 40 163 1953 Sep 21 Correspondence from Monroe A. Holmes to Arthur H. Wolff Concerning Continued Investigation
1 1 41 164-171 1953 Correspondence and Microscopic Examination Report from Joe B. Sanders to Monroe A. Holmes
1 1 42 172-183 1953 Correspondence and Enclosures from Joe B. Sanders to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Sheep Sample Analysis
1 1 43 184-185 1953 Sep 21 Correspondence Between Monroe A. Holmes and Stephen L. Brower Concerning Coordinated Research Study
1 1 44 186 1953 Sep 2 Correspondence from George A. Spendlove to Stephen L. Brower Concerning Continued Sheep Study
1 1 45 187 1953 Oct 12 Correspondence from James H. Steele to George A. Spendlove Concerning Study/Survey Request
1 1 46 188-189 1953 Oct 13 Correspondence from Arthur H. Wolff Concerning John Rust and B.F. Trum Sheep Necropsy Study
1 1 47 190-215 1953 Oct 14 University of Tennessee Sheep Study Reports by John Rust and B.F. Trum
1 1 48 216-218 1953 Oct 16 Memorandum on Sheep Losses Around Cedar City from Seth R. Woodruff to Carroll L. Tyler
1 1 49 219 1953 Oct 27 Los Alamos Conference on Livestock Losses Briefing
1 1 50 220-221 1953 Oct 16 Correspondence from Monroe A. Holmes to John H. Rust Concerning Sheep Tissue Samples
1 1 51 222 1953 Nov 4 Federal Security Agency Route Slip to Monroe A. Holmes from Arthur H. Wolff
1 1 52 223-225 1953 Oct 26-Oct 29 Los Alamos Trip Report
1 1 53 226-228 1953 Nov 2 Memorandum and Correspondence from F.H. Melvin to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Los Alamos Conference
1 1 54 229-244 1953 Nov 4 Report on Sheep Losses Adjacent to the Nevada Proving Grounds by AEC Director of Biology and Medicine
1 1 55 245-248 1953 Nov 9 Memorandum from Monroe A. Holmes to James H. Steele Concerning Los Alamos Conference
1 1 56 249 1953 Nov 12 Correspondence from Monroe A. Holmes to Dr. Clarence Lushbaugh Concerning Sheep Tissue Samples
1 1 57 250 1953 Nov 12 Correspondence from Stephen Brower to Dr. R.H. Walker Concerning Experiment Station Meeting
1 1 58 251-252 1953 Nov 23 Correspondence between Monroe A. Holmes and Dr. Clarence Lushbaugh Concerning Sheep Sample Tests
1 1 59 253-275 1953 Nov 30 Comparative Study of Experimentally Produced Beta Lesions and Skin Lesions in Utah Range Sheep (with Photographs) by C.E. Lushbaugh, J.F. Spalding, and D.B. Hale
1 1 60 276-320 1953 Nov 30 Comparative Study of Hanford and Utah Range Sheep by L.K. Bustad, S. Marks, N.L. Dockum, D.R. Kalkwarf, and H.A. Kornberg (Hanford Atomic Products Operation)
1 1 61 321-322 1953 Dec 11 Correspondence from Paul B. Pearson to James G. Terrill Concerning Transfer of Reports
1 1 62 323 1953 Dec 24 Memorandum from Samuel C. Ingraham Concerning AEC Report on Sheep Loss
1 1 63 324-325 1953 Dec 24 Correspondence from James G. Terrill, Jr. to Dr. George A. Spendlove Concerning AEC Report on Sheep Loss
1 1 64 326-327 1953 Dec 30 Memorandum from Monroe A. Holmes to George Spendlove Concerning Paul Pearson's Report on Sheep Loss
1 1 65 328-329 1954 Jan 5 Correspondence from Paul B. Pearson to George Spendlove Concerning Iodine and Toxicity Reports
1 1 66 330-338 1954 Jan 6 AEC Report on Sheep Losses Adjacent to the Nevada Proving Grounds
1 1 67 339-348 1954 Jan 13 Meeting Minutes Between AEC Officials and Utah Livestockmen in Cedar City, Utah
1 1 68 349-351 1954 Jan 19 Correspondence from James G. Terrill to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Travel Expenses
1 1 69 352-353 1954 Jan 20 Correspondence from Paul B. Pearson to George Spendlove Concerning Congressional Letter of Support
1 1 70 354-355 1954 Feb 1 Correspondence from Samuel Ingraham to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning 1948 AEC Report on Beta Burns on Rats
1 1 71 356 1954 Feb 5 Correspondence from L.C. Strickland to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Travel Reimbursement
1 1 72 357 1954 Apr 6 Memorandum from Samuel C. Ingraham Concerning Travel Reimbursement
1 1 73 358 1954 Apr 13 Correspondence from Stephen L. Brower to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Wallace Thorley Sheep Herd Loss
1 1 74 359-362 1954 Apr 14 Memorandum from Monroe A. Holmes to Samuel C. Ingraham Concerning Narrative Report on Continuing Investigation of Sheep Herd Loss
1 1 75 363-365 1954 Jan 13 Hand Written Notes from AEC Meeting with Livestock Owners in Cedar City, Utah
1 1 76 366-369 1954 Apr 14 Memorandum from Monroe A. Holmes to Samuel C. Ingraham Concerning Narrative Report on Continuing Investigation of Sheep Herd Loss
1 1 77 370 1954 Apr 15 Correspondence from Monroe A. Holmes to Stephen L. Brower Concerning Wallace Thorley Sheep Herd
1 1 78 371 1954 Apr 15 Memorandum to Paul Pearson and Joe Sanders Concerning Livestock Losses and Field Trip to Cedar City, Utah
1 1 79 372-380 1954 Apr 16 Correspondence and Report Concerning Proposed Nutritional and Pathology Study of Range Sheep in Southwest Utah
1 1 80 381-384 1954 May 14 Correspondence from James G. Terrill to Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Distribution of Reports
1 1 81 385 1954 May 19 Correspondence from Arthur Wolff to G.A. Spendlove Concerning New Range Study Information Request
1 1 82 386 1954 May 24 Correspondence from Monroe A. Holmes to Arthur Wolff Concerning May 19, 1954 Information Request
1 1 83 387 1954 May 19 Memorandum from James G. Terrill Concerning Stephen Brower Notes from the January 13, 1954 Cedar City Meeting
1 1 84 388 1954 Jun 2 Correspondence from George A. Spendlove to Paul Pearson Concerning Mackleprang Lawsuit Against the AEC
1 1 85 389-391 1954 Jun 9 Memorandum from Monroe A. Holmes Concerning Continued Investigation of Utah Sheep Deaths from Unknown Etiology
1 1 86 392-395 1954 Jan 12-1955 Mar 1 Newspaper Clippings
1 N/A N/A N/A 1953-1955 Mount Whitney Sectional Aeronautical Chart
FICHE-SET DATE DESCRIPTION
1 1953 Sheep Disease Investigation - Six Photo Negatives
2 1953 Sheep Disease Investigation - Five Photo Negatives
3 1953-1954 Sheep Disease Investigation - Bulloch Herd - Four Photo Negatives
4 1954 Sheep Disease Investigation - D. Corry Herd - One Photo Negative
5 1953-1954 Synopsis of the Utah Sheep Disease Investigation