One of the most dangerous sets of weapons humanity can imagine includes biological ones. What would happen if a deadly microorganism, for instance, were to be released in the air? Oh well, believe or not, large-scale tests entailing such “attacks” have already been done: according to Business Insider, the US army performed simulated open-air biological warfare attacks in San Francisco, and many other cities decades ago.
Decades ago, during the time of the World War II, the US military showed keen interest in biological warfare. They wanted to test the potential hazards posed by harmful toxins and microorganisms. They first experimented with harmless strands of bacteria. They quickly moved to more dangerous methods: infecting soldiers and their families. Later on, they took to open-air tests on the citizens of the US. It was revealed in 1977 that the US military performed such experiments 239 times. Talking about ethics.
In one such experiment, called the Operation Sea-Spray, giant hoses were used to spray a supposedly harmless bacterial cloud of Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii. The latter was sprayed from a Navy ship docked off the coast of San Francisco. They wanted to test whether the city’s fog would promote the spread of the cloud. According to estimates, the 800,000 residents of the city breathed in millions of bacteria for weeks from when they were propagated.
S. marcescens lives in the soil, and releases a bright blood-red pigment as a biological marker such that scientists can track its spread. Easier to locate the effects of the bacteria then, right?! Also, it turned out that the microorganism can be deadly. Ah, so much for harmless biological tests.
The red pigment of S. marcescens used as biological marker. Photo credits: Dbn/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.
How many were actually adversely affected by these unethical tests is not known. But, at least one person died: Edward J. Nevin is said to have succumbed to a S. marcescens infection. Furthermore, ten more were hospitalised following urinary tract infections.
The other experiments spread from New York to Washington DC: bacteria and other microscopic particles were released into the air while unsuspecting citizens breathed them in. Suddenly, the world seems to be a so much more dangerous place to be in.