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BOSTON--A state investigation has uncovered more Cold War-era experiments that used radiation on unwitting retarded subjects, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation (DMR) told a panel of legislators yesterday.
Harvard researchers conducted some of the experiments previously uncovered. Those experiments, which involve at least two schools for the retarded, are being investigated by a DMR task force and by a special University-wide committee.
"Fernald was not the limit," the commissioners, Philip Campbell, said of the Waltham-based Fernald State School, where University scientists and others conducted tests with radiation during the 1940s, '50s and '60s.
"We have uncovered additional experiments with radiation including experiments at the Wrentham School, which was also reported in the papers," said Campbell, who did not give details about the new revelations.
Campbell made his remarks in testimony before a meeting of the state's Joint Committee on Human Services and Elderly Affairs. He was before the panel to assess his department's performance over the last year and answer questions about budget requests made by the DMR.
Campbell said the state's investigation into the experiments was nearing a conclusion.
"I fully expect within the confines of a week or two to get a full report," Campbell said. "We have brought in experts from around the country...and our commitment is to full disclosure."
Campbell is expected to present the findings of the task force's investigation at a press conference later this month.
"We anticipate recommendations from the task force on how to safeguard against [a repetition of such experiments]," Campbell said.
In January, Campbell named 10 experts to a panel charged with investigating experiments with radioactivity at state schools for the retarded. Scores of teenagers and children at state schools unwittingly consumed small doses of radioactive isotopes in nutrition and other medical studies in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
So far, Harvard has been linked to experiments at two state schools: Fernald and Wrentham.
A Harvard Medical School faculty member, Dr. Clemens E. Benda, served as medical director at the Fernald School during the time when one of the first-reported sets of experiments took place. Benda's name is on the published study in which the results were recorded.
In 1961 and 1962, a Medical School assistant professor and a Harvard researcher gave doses of radioactive iodine to "mentally defective" Children ages one to 11 in an attempt to determine the consequences of nuclear fallout.
"Following the revelation of documents, we all read in December about experiments on people with mental retardation. That came as a shock, but not as a surprise," Campbell said. "Because people with mental retardation have too often been devalued by society and used in such experiments."
The handful of state senators and representatives at the hearing did not ask Campbell directly about the state's investigation into the experiments. The commissioner made his statements in the course of his broader remarks about the DMR.
"I wasn't surprised. We have almost expected that," said Rep. Michael Cahill (D-Essex) in an interview after the testimony. "It wasn't a bombshell. It's tragic, but not surprising. [Campbell] is trying to bring it to the forefront. We've expected to hear that."
"We are doing our best to scour 40-year-old documents," Campbell testified at the hearing, which was held in a basement room at the State House. There were only nine persons in the audience.
Joe Wrinn, a Harvard spokesperson, said Harvard's panel investigating University involvement in human subject research is continuing its work. Wrinn said he was not aware of any new developments in the Harvard probe.
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