There are Canadian Servicemen who never got a medal or recognition for what they did. Lives are lost other than on battlefields. On a warm day in May 1958 the new recruits were in the Basic Training program at Camp Petawawa, Ontario. Orders were issued that they were to assemble, embark on trucks and be transported to Chalk River. They were new to the military life but had already been programmed "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die". None of the men selected had received training on contact with radioactive materials. (As "scrubbers" they needed none). The job was manual, under supervision, and use of general infantry personnel was predicted as the fact that they would have no further exposure to radiation, except in a war emergency, when peacetime controls would not matter in any case.
Upon arrival at Chalk River they were told to strip and put on the clothing issued and were taken into the area where there had been a uranium spill and proceeded to clean up the spill. After their shift they were told to strip again, they were checked with a geiger counter and ordered to scrub themselves with a nail brush in the showers. When they came out of the shower they were checked with a geiger counter and sent back to re-scrub until nothing showed on the counter. Some ended up going back to the showers anything from 3 to 5 times before the Laboratory Exit Monitors would allow them to return to base. My husband was one of the men that went to Chalk River. He recalls having a "plastic bag being put over his head and taped to the rest of the suit he was wearing". He has no recollection of wearing a gas mask or respirator.
Research now indicates that if they ingested any particles that they would not have registered on the geiger counter as this form of radiation is difficult to monitor, even by today's sophisticated methods of dosimeter. It is reasonable to think that while they were "sweeping" the contaminated particles would have adhered to the protective clothing. The process of them undressing would have caused these particles to become airborne and ingested during normal breathing. The possible damage here could have involved damage to the blood cells, and the cells and the cellular reproduction process.
There has been very little public disclosure about contamination as a result of low level exposure to radiation, particularly in regard to long term effects. This matter has been given a lot of attention but very few facts were issued to the general public. And in particular to the men that were involved at Chalk River in 1958.
That was then this is now. Professor D. Ernest Sternglass published a paper in 1986, which reviews much of the subsequent research and the aftermath of events such as Chernobyl and concluded:
"That radiation damage at low doses and dose rates previously thought to be innocuous are extremely far reaching - and that the dangers can no longer be judged on the basis of our experience high dose, high dose rate radiation".
"At very low dose rates, it is the indirect, free radical damage to cell membranes that dominates, which causes the immune system to be weakened, thus allowing the ever present cancer cells normally produced by background radiation and other carcinogens in the environment to multiply until they damage normal body functions and ultimately lead to pre-mature death".
A 1988 report of the International Commission on Radiation Protection, indicates that their previous findings as to permissable levels of radiation, for radiation workers, and others, may be grossly in error, as a result of the over estimation of the amount of radiation necessary to cause the observed casualties in the Japanese explosions, subsequent weapons tests and a limited number of civilian accidents, upon which tests previous findings were based. This particularly applies to the long term onset of illness. Weakening of the immune system may be involved.
The measured aftermath to the Chernobyl incident, and other recent research, indicates that very low levels of radiation can cause cellular damage resulting in long term onset illness. The current Canadian Pension Commission guidelines on Radiation Exposure are based on a 1985 International Commission on Radiation Protection. This guideline is out of date and out of touch with reality and should be replaced.
It can take 30-40 years after exposure for the radiation effects to manifest themselves. In fact there is literature that contain references to 50 years latency.
Some of the men recall comments about too much exposure making them sterile but nothing about the long term effect of the exposure on their health in the future.
The troops and the world knew as much about nuclear contamination then as they did about AIDS. They know more about AIDS today because it affects the general public - Nuclear contamination is still in that nebulous area and they know very little about it. At the time none of the troops were aware of the dangers involved in this exercise. It was just another duty like KP or Guard Duty. So they went on with their lives. Some went to Soest with the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade Group, and then returned to Camp Picton. Who knows what they were exposed to during that time. For those of you that have forgotten this was the time that the Berlin Wall was constructed and these soldiers were only a few kilometres from the Russian sector on training at Saltou.
There was a few of them that only served the three years. Others reenlisted and served six years. When they were discharged their files showed no medical problems in connection with the Chalk River Clean-up. Some files did not even acknowledge they were at Chalk River. Initially we were told by the Pension Appeal Board that there was no record at Army Headquarters, Ottawa of my husband being at Chalk River. I got his dosimetric record from Chalk River and they still do not acknowledge his claim for assistance.
At Christmas 1985 Department of Veteran's Affairs G. Hees announced that "there was indications that men involved in the Clean-up at Chalk River and Nevada may develop health problems as a result of their exposure". Ottawa was supposed to arrange medicals for them so that they could be monitored. I tried to get my husband included in this procedure to no avail. To the best of my knowledge no member of the 1st Battalion The Canadian Guards living in Nova Scotia was given a medical.
The only information we could get was that symptoms of fatigue, respiratory problems, circulatory problems and cancer may appear. In 1972 my husband was diagnosed as having Raynaud's Disease. This is a condition caused by an abnormal degree of spasm of the blood vessels of the extremities. Venous stasis follows in three stages: local syncope, asphyxia and gangrene. A vasomotor neurosis characterized by local anaemia, congestion or gangrene. Prognosis: Attacks persist, but life not endangered. In rare instances extensive gangrene develops and death follows. He did as the doctors told him. Took his medication. Wore special gloves and socks in cold weather and went on with his normal active life. Then in the early eighties he was diagnosed as having Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. This apparently involves the obstruction of the passage of blood from heart to lungs and back again for purification.
In 1986 we attended a Guards Reunion at Connaught Ranges, Ottawa. My husband was covered in mosquito bites. (Chalk River is only a short distance away). Were these mosquitos contaminated? Did their bites intensify the amount of contamination already in his body from ingestion and exposure at Chalk River?
I have a theory that this did happen. What is a theory? Its a supposition or assumption based on certain evidence or observations but lacking scientific proof. When a theory becomes generally accepted and firmly established it then becomes a doctrine or principle.
In May 1991 while playing golf at Hartlen's Point Forces Golf Course my husband collapsed. He had now developed Angina. At fifty two years old my husband was declared incapable of working again. The man I had loved for thirty years was being taken away and neither of us will know the truth till it is too late. We have "ran the gauntlet" with DVA, Ottawa and Pensions Advocates Office. We have had appeals for the appeals and no one will accept responsibility.
Does this story sound familiar to any of you? If so please contact me. Individually we cannot do anything but as a group maybe we can convince the powers that be to do something about the circumstances. You can't get your health back BUT maybe what is left of your life can be made easier.
In the past the D.V.A. dealt mainly with claims from the servicemen who were overseas during either in World War 1, World War 2 or the Korean War. The total number of survivors from these areas of conflict that are still alive has vastly decreased during the past few years. It is my opinion that men like my husband should now be taken care of.
26 Acorn Road