Natives used in iodine experiments to be compensated

Posted: Thursday, October 26, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Many of the Alaska Natives given low-level radioactive iodine in a medical experiment 43 years ago will receive $67,000 each under a settlement between the U.S. government and the North Slope Borough.

The borough announced the settlement Tuesday at a ceremony in its Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow. At the ceremony, top Air Force officials delivered apologies to the experiment participants who attended and acknowledged the ''cultural insensitivity'' displayed by the researchers.

''I will not attempt to tell you that I or anyone else in the Air Force, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government knows how you feel about what happened 43 years ago,'' Air Force General Counsel Jeh Charles Johnson, a civilian, told the participants. ''I can tell you that our standards of medical ethics have evolved to a level where I am confident that such a thing could never happen again. I can also tell you that the leadership of the Air Force has recognized that this chapter in our history was wrong. I am here to do what I can to try to make it right.''

Also attending were Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, commander of the Alaska Command, and Fred Kuhn, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force. Kuhn handed out letters of apology personally signed by Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters.

Todd Sherwood, borough attorney and master of ceremonies for the event, said the people who participated in the experiment were satisfied with the settlement.

''There was no evidence of hostility whatsoever'' at the ceremony, he said Wednesday. ''It was a time to come together.''

Congress, at the request of Sen. Ted Stevens, approved $7 million for the settlement this past summer in the annual defense appropriations bill for fis-cal 2001.

The Air Force gave iodine orally to 102 Native men, women and children in northern Alaska from 1955 to 1957. The military was testing a theory, ultimately found to be groundless, that the thyroid gland regulates a person's ability to withstand cold weather.

''They were just trying to see why, basically, white people seemed to suffer in the cold while Eskimo people thrived,'' Sherwood said.

The Native people involved were inadequately informed about the radioactivity, according to a National Research Council report from 1996. The council also said there was no proof that the testing harmed anyone.

''From everything I've read and picked up, they believed they were receiving some kind of useful health treatment,'' Sherwood said. ''Only a few people interviewed knew that it had something to do with medical research. Nobody had any idea that it involved radioactivity.''

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