Sociologist Lisa Martino-Taylor at St. Louis Community College says they may have been radioactive. There is no mention of what radioactive particles, if any, were mixed with zinc cadmium sulfide and sprayed from the rooftops by the US army.
But AP report below mentions one former resident recalling having a powdery substance dumped on her and her friends by the Army planes as they were playing on the street.
From AP News (10/4/2012; emphasis is mine):
ST. LOUIS — Doris Spates was a baby when her father died inexplicably in 1955. She has watched four siblings die of cancer, and she survived cervical cancer.
After learning that the Army conducted secret chemical testing in her impoverished St. Louis neighborhood at the height of the Cold War, she wonders if her own government is to blame.
In the mid-1950s, and again a decade later, the Army used motorized blowers atop a low-income housing high-rise, at schools and from the backs of station wagons to send a potentially dangerous compound into the already-hazy air in predominantly black areas of St. Louis.
Local officials were told at the time that the government was testing a smoke screen that could shield St. Louis from aerial observation in case the Russians attacked.
But in 1994, the government said the tests were part of a biological weapons program and St. Louis was chosen because it bore some resemblance to Russian cities that the U.S. might attack. The material being sprayed was zinc cadmium sulfide, a fine fluorescent powder.
Now, new research is raising greater concern about the implications of those tests. St. Louis Community College-Meramec sociology professor Lisa Martino-Taylor's research has raised the possibility that the Army performed radiation testing by mixing radioactive particles with the zinc cadmium sulfide, though she concedes there is no direct proof.
But her report, released late last month, was troubling enough that both U.S. senators from Missouri wrote to Army Secretary John McHugh demanding answers.
Aides to Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt said they have received no response. Army spokesman Dave Foster declined an interview request from The Associated Press, saying the Army would first respond to the senators.
The area of the secret testing is described by the Army in documents obtained by Martino-Taylor through a Freedom of Information Act request as "a densely populated slum district." About three-quarters of the residents were black.
Spates, now 57 and retired, was born in 1955, delivered inside her family's apartment on the top floor of the since-demolished Pruitt-Igoe housing development in north St. Louis. Her family didn't know that on the roof, the Army was intentionally spewing hundreds of pounds of zinc cadmium sulfide into the air.
Three months after her birth, her father died. Four of her 11 siblings succumbed to cancer at relatively young ages.
"I'm wondering if it got into our system," Spates said. "When I heard about the testing, I thought, 'Oh my God. If they did that, there's no telling what else they're hiding.'"
Mary Helen Brindell wonders, too. Now 68, her family lived in a working-class mixed-race neighborhood where spraying occurred.
The Army has admitted only to using blowers to spread the chemical, but Brindell recalled a summer day playing baseball with other kids in the street when a squadron of green Army planes flew close to the ground and dropped a powdery substance. She went inside, washed it off her face and arms, then went back out to play.
Over the years, Brindell has battled four types of cancer — breast, thyroid, skin and uterine.
"I feel betrayed," said Brindell, who is white. "How could they do this? We pointed our fingers during the Holocaust, and we do something like this?"
Martino-Taylor said she wasn't aware of any lawsuits filed by anyone affected by the military tests. She also said there have been no payouts "or even an apology" from the government to those affected.
The secret testing in St. Louis was exposed to Congress in 1994, prompting a demand for a health study. A committee of the National Research Council determined in 1997 that the testing did not expose residents to harmful levels of the chemical. But the committee said research was sparse and the finding relied on limited data from animal testing.
It also noted that high doses of cadmium over long periods of exposure could cause bone and kidney problems and lung cancer. The committee recommended that the Army conduct follow-up studies "to determine whether inhaled zinc cadmium sulfide breaks down into toxic cadmium compounds, which can be absorbed into the blood to produce toxicity in the lungs and other organs."
But it isn't clear if follow-up studies were ever performed. Martino-Taylor said she has gotten no answer from the Army and her research has turned up no additional studies. Foster, the Army spokesman, declined comment.
(full article at the link)
For UK's Daily Mail, there seems to be no doubt it was "radioactive" ("Revealed: Army scientists secretly sprayed St Louis with 'radioactive' particles for YEARS to test chemical warfare technology", 10/4/2012). Daily Mail's article has a bit more about "radioactive materials":
However, Professor Martino-Taylor believes the documents she's uncovered, prove the zinc cadmium silfide was also mixed with radioactive particles.
She has linked the St Louis testing to a now-defunct company called US Radium. The controversial company came under fire, and numerous lawsuits, after several of its workers were exposed to dangerous levels of radioactive materials in its fluorescent paint.
'US Radium had this reputation where they had been found legally liable for producing a radioactive powdered paint that killed many young women who painted fluorescent watch tiles,' said Professor Martino-Taylor.
In her findings, one of the compounds that was sprayed upon the public was called 'FP2266', according to the army's documents, and was manufactured by US Radium. The compound, also known as Radium 226, was the same one that killed and sickened many of the US Radium workers.
The Army has admitted that it added a fluorescent substance to the 'harmless' compound, but whether or not the additive was radioactive remains classified.
Radium 226's half life is 1,600 years. It is an alpha emitter, so unless you inhale it... uh... the residents did, didn't they?
Radium 226 was also the radioactive material found in several locations in Setagaya-ku, Tokyo in October and November last year. (See my post.)
(H/T reader 'La terra non ha uscite di emergenza' for Daily Mail article)