1948–1970s: Nasal Radium Irradiation (NRI) of Children at Johns Hopkins

Between1948–1954, 582 Baltimore school children were subjected to radiation in a federally-funded experiment whose stated intent was to gauge long-term hearing loss. The treatment was incorporated as “standard care,” and an average of 150 patients a month, mostly children, were given the treatment at the Johns Hopkins clinic over a period of several years. Many children received the treatment more than once as recurrent lymphoid tissue was considered an indication for treatment. (ACHRE Report, Ch.7) The overall estimate by the US Centers for Disease Control is between 500,000 to two million U.S. citizens, mostly children, were treated with NRI. (CDC) The treatment involved inserting metal rods tipped with Radium into the children’s nostrils to shrink their adenoids. The children were exposed to high doses of radiation; and their exposure to radium lasted 12 minutes for “three bilateral-through both nostrils-irradiations;” during which the children’s thyroid gland and pituitary gland were exposed to high doses of radiation.

“The President’s Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, extrapolating from the known effects of radiation doses, calculated that children who received nasal radiation faced a lifetime risk of brain cancer of 4.35 cases per thousand population, 62 percent higher than normal. The rate of all cancers of the head and neck caused by the treatment could be twice that high, according to the committee.” (Keough. The Boston Globe Magazine, 1999)

The mortality risk of cancer to the head and neck for these children is estimated at 10 times higher than the risk for military veterans treated with NRI who were typically exposed for six to eight minutes. In 1997, the Pentagon announced that 20,000 radium-treated veterans deserved notification and medical follow-up. The Baltimore Chronicle reported: “This was the sole human experiment, from among 2,300 known human experiments performed by the Department of Defense that was deemed worthy of follow-up.

Yet, despite the significantly higher risk for cancer the children incurred, the Interagency Working Group on Human Radiation Experiments failed to even mention the children treated with nasal radium.” (Baltimore Chronicle, 1997)

Read more about the suppression of a doctoral dissertation and efforts to cover-up the risk: Nasal-Radiation Hopkins Suppressed Study Baltimore City Paper and  Nasal Radiation_Crusade-To-Publicize- Risk-_Stewart _Farber_The Wall Street Journal_1999