Lamey’s lungs were slow to recover. Two months after the exercise, a physical examination by the occupational physician showed that his “lung capacity had been reduced compared to previous examinations”, according to his sworn testimony.
Lamey was an undercover cop, and he said in one instance he had to testify about events that happened a decade earlier — something he was only able to do because he kept from good marks. He relied on that habit again, taking notes and collecting documents as he repeatedly pressed his supervisors for medical tests and updates on various internal investigations into the incident, and he submitted a public records request for all documentation related to his possible exposure.
Lamey concluded there was a government “cover-up” and shared thousands of pages of personal, internal, public and legal documents about the incident with BuzzFeed News.
The documents, combined with interviews, do not prove a cover-up. But they show that the government’s response has been haphazard and flawed. The government brought in a rotating group of people to investigate what happened, and the glaring possible explanations for what happened have never been fully explored.
In the days and weeks after the exercise, contractors and government officials began investigating what had happened, and one contractor even contacted the CDC — but despite interest from the CDC, investigators never followed up.
In May 1991, officials were puzzled, but offered two tentative theories about what had happened: “unspecified allergic reaction to pollen and decaying vegetation” or “exposure to pomegranate smoke that had settled in pockets concentrated in low areas,” according to an internal report. summarizing the preliminary investigation.
But by the investigators’ own admission, the grenade smoke theory could not be a complete answer because “not all personnel who reported symptoms were exposed to the smoke”. Officials were also not entirely convinced by the idea of an allergic reaction. At most they would say they couldn’t rule it out.
Seven months after the exercise, a senior official with the Mail Transport Safeguards Division, or TSD, was already saying it was probably too late to find out definitively what had happened, while ordering a more in-depth investigation. Released in February 1992, the resulting report was authored by health official David Anglen and indeed offered no explanation for the illnesses, although it ruled out many possibilities. Anglen declined to comment on the investigation.
Officials reported how they brought in a botanist from the Savannah River Ecology Lab to examine the vegetation at the exercise site for plants that could make people sick (none were found) . They also checked for recently applied herbicides (none were), checked an unlabeled 55 gallon drum for contamination (none were found), looked for discolored or dead plants as a sign of chemical contamination (none were found), and sampled the air at the exercise site for hydrogen sulfide and methane (none were found).
Perhaps more important than detailing what TSD had done so far, Anglen’s assessment showed what officials had do not done before and after the exercise: They had not checked the water or soil for radiation, heavy metals or other pollutants.
TSD security personnel spent a very short time – less than an hour – checking the exercise site before it took place. In response to a courier who was concerned about river pollution, Anglen’s report concluded: “This potential hazard was not sufficiently considered prior to the exercise.
The report also details how a Savannah River site official informed TSD that “there were ‘numerous’ areas of radiation” at the nuclear facility site, but the exercise site had not been verified. in advance to detect possible radiation.
The report also mentioned how “at least four months after exercise, some participants are still reporting respiratory symptoms that they believe are related to exercise.” Martin Marietta had already implemented a medical screening for their guards at this point, according to the report, and TSD planned to follow their lead.
Lamey and other couriers said that did not happen.
No blood or urine samples were taken, and no radiation or chemical exposure tests were ordered for people who reported symptoms in the hours, days or weeks following the incident.
A month after the training, Lamey wrote to the program director, Randolph Saber, asking “to perform a full physical and body count, as I am still coughing up some type of fluid.” Lamey noted that 30 days had passed and “the DOE made no effort to screen the apparently exposed personnel.”
By late 1991, McIntyre was also requesting testing. Lamey and McIntyre were finally tested for radiation exposure in early 1992, nearly a year after the exercise, through what’s called a full body count, which involves using a machine to search for materials. radiation in the body, and a special urine test.
According to McIntyre, his results came back normal and he recalled being told by the testing officials that “after all this time, the tests would be unlikely to find anything significant.”
Lamey was also told everything was normal on the total body count. His urinalysis was a different story: traces of tritium were found. “[S]Given that tritium has an effective half-life in the body of only ten days,” he recalled, “it is highly unlikely that this finding is related to the exercise in which this individual participated on 04/24/91 “.
Meanwhile, the nine other couriers involved in the exercise who spoke to BuzzFeed News said they had not been tested at all.