Archive for April, 2010

In Honour of Dr. Charles Pecher

April 29, 2010

In the period prior to the US entry into World War 2, the Belgian doctor, Charles Pecher, worked with Dr John Lawrence at Ernest Lawrence’s cyclotron facility, University of California, Berkeley.

Using injected Strontium 89, which he made using the cyclotron, Dr. Pecher succeeded in easing the pain of terminal bone cancer in patients.

In August 1941 Dr. Pecher was found dead in Canada.

His treatment was “lost” for many years. Today General Electric markets the treatment as “Metastron” , injectable Strontium 89 Chloride. Dr. Pecher doesn’t gain a mention in GE’s documentation. Neither does his published papers on the nature of Sr89 of the 1940s.

In fact, during the period of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, the US Atomic Energy Commission did all it could to suppress the knowledge originated by Dr. Pecher. The US AEC used the knowledge extensively in secret.

Here is part of Doctor Pecher’s story. The story of human tragedy and the story of a delay of a medical treatment important in the easing of human suffering. A delay that persisted from 1942 until 1993, the date of the US FDA approval of the treatment.

From “Medicine and the Bomb..”:

(b) Strontium 89 (Sr89) (Dr Charles Pecher)
From 1940 to 1941 Charles Pecher synthesized Radio Strontium 89 and other radioisotopes at Ernest Lawrence’s Crocker Radiation Laboratory and Cyclotron, located at the University of California, Berkeley. [1]
Dr Pecher created Strontium by the method reported by D. W. Stewart , J. L.
Lawson, and J. M. Cork Department of the Physics and Chemistry, University
of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, published as “Induced Radioactivity in
Strontium and Yttrium” in “Physics Review” No. 53, Issue 9, 901-906, 1937.

The production of Strontium 89 resulted in the formation of an isotope of Yttrium as a by-product. [3] Pecher devised and patented a means by which
Yttrium could replace the use of Radium in industry. The method offered
greater safety, economy and performance in industrial radiography.

The patent was one of two granted to Charles Pecher in America. [4]
Pecher determined the uptake, metabolism and the resultant dosimetry of Radio Strontium in mammals. It was shown that mammals absorbed and
metabolised Radio Strontium in a manner similar to Calcium. It was also
shown that this metabolic similarity held for all strontium isotopes: “At present there is no significant evidence that living cells can distinguish an element from its radioactive isotope.” [5]

Dr L. A. Erf and Dr C. Pecher gained a grant from the John and Mary R.
Markle Foundation for Medical Research. The research sought to improve childhood nutrition by investigating ways to boost the calcium content of cow’s milk.

In order to conduct the experiments required, they needed a suitable radioactive tracer. However, because of the size of the cow, no radioactive form of calcium emitted radioactivity of a type and intensity that allowed for its
accurate external monitoring. [6]

They required a substance which was a potent beta radiation emitter and
which was biochemically similar to calcium.

Pecher selected Strontium 89
which emitted purely beta radiation of a high energy level for the type. The
strontium 89 half life, then thought to be of about 55 days, suited their purpose. The isotope was produced in high yield by the Berkeley Cyclotron. [7] This half life period of 55 days would be shown to be in error by Glasoe and Steigman in 1940, who found Sr89 to possess a half life of 51 days. [8] This value is given today by authorities. [9]

Pecher continued to use the 55 day figure in his animal experiments and human treatment trials until his death from suicide in 1941. [10]

Prior to his death, and with the assistance of Dr. L. A. Erf and Dr J. Hamilton, Charles injected strontium 89 chloride into two dairy cows. The radio
strontium was traced externally from the site of injection through to its
secretion over time into the cows’ milk.

The results of the experiment were
published in 1940. [11]

Pecher reported that the radiation counter loaned to them by Dr. Willard Libby achieved readings of greater accuracy using Strontium 89 (Sr89) as a tracer than had been possible with Calcium 45. [12]

Many experiments were conducted by Pecher et al using Sr89. Pecher
described the binding of strontium to bone. He described the subsequent
movement of strontium from mothers’ bone via other tissues to the fetus
and nursing infant in pregnant and lactating rats. He reported that the
offspring became “more radioactive than the mother.” [13]

Pecher originated the use of Sr89 as a cancer treatment. In 1939 Pecher had
observed the uptake of Sr89 by bone tumours in animals. [14]

He found when given to such animals, Sr89 was concentrated at the tumor
sites by the metabolism of bone tumours. As a result these tumors shrank under the intense beta irradiation of the now concentrated Sr89. Useful periods of treatment per dose were obtained due to the physical half life of Sr89. [15]

Such was the progress of the animal trials that by 1940 the treatment of
human patients suffering secondary bone cancer was underway. Prior to
treatment patients were confined to bed by great pain beyond the reach of
other treatments. Administration of Sr89 chloride by injection produced such
pain relief that some patients were able to leave their beds and walk. One
patient returned to work as a teacher.

Sadly though, despite the pain relief,
Sr89 was not a cure. The trial was in an early phase and incomplete. [16]

Glasoe and Steigman identified Strontium 89 as a uranium fission product in 1940. Their paper “Radioactive Products from Gases Produced In Uranium Fission” was published in “The Physical Review”, Vol 58, No.1, 1 July, 1940.

Identifying and defining the Sr89 creation chain as Uranium + Neutron =
Energy plus Krypton 89 > Rubidium 89; Strontium 89 with a 51 day half life, Yttrium 89 (stable), they contrast this with the non fission means used
earlier to create Strontium 89 via cyclotron by Stewart et al as followed by
Pecher. (That is by the bombardment of a lighter isotope of Strontium with
deuterons and protons (d, p), to create Sr89).

As the fission of both plutonium and uranium produce Strontium 89, [17] the
Pecher data appears to be of great value in terms of predicting the effects of
exposure to reactor emissions and fallout from atomic bombs. Not that Pecher was aware of this during his work.

Dr Pecher’s final paper, the report on the Strontium 89 cancer treatment, was
written in 1941 and published posthumously in 1942: “Pecher, C., “Biological Investigations with Radioactive Calcium and Strontium, Preliminary Report on the Use of Radioactive Strontium in the Treatment of Metastatic Bone Cancer”, Contributed from the Radiation Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley, University of California Publications in Pharmacology. Editors: C.D. Leake, G. A. Alles, T.C. Daniels, M.H. Soley. Volume 2 No 11, pp. 117-150, plates 6-9, 3 figures in text. Submitted by Editors July 21, 1942, Issued October 23, 1942, University of California Press, Berkeley, Cambridge University Press, London, England. Prefatory note by C.D. Leake, editor.”

The work of Charles Pecher defined the metabolic and radio-biological nature
of Strontium 89 and its use in an innovative medical treatment in an era of global war. The US would soon join the conflict, using every means available to attain victory.

Pecher demonstrated that the absorption and retention of Radio Strontium was related to dietary calcium and to the calcium demand experienced by individual test animals.

Rodents deprived of dietary calcium absorbed an retained greater amounts of Sr89 introduced into their food. [18]

Irradiation of bone marrow by beta radiation emitted from medicinal Sr89
resident in bone presented as a limiting factor in the course of Pecher’s
human treatment trials.
Of this Pecher wrote: “the problem has been studied with respect to: (1) the
distribution of irradiation after the administration of radioactive strontium, (2) the method of administration of radio-strontium, (3) the chemical toxicity of strontium on the tissues, (4) the effect of radioactive strontium on the tissues, and (5) the dosage of the substance.” [19] “ The effect of radio – strontium has been studied in mice, rabbits, and human beings…..Under the treatment of large doses of radioactive strontium (59 to 200 microcuries) to mice, a definite leucopenia has been observed. Two weeks after the administration of approximately 180 microcuries to each of five mice, their average white cell count was 4200 cells per cm., whereas the normal value for mice is approximately 14,000. Nevertheless, the effect on the blood picture is much smaller than that of a similar amount of radio-phosphorus.

Some transitory leucopenia and anemia observed in a patient with metastatic
prostate carcinoma and in another………… after a total administration of 8 and 5 millicuries of radio-strontium, respectively, must be attributed to the treatment….Dosage: The dosage of radio-strontium when administered therapeutically is still a difficult and largely empirical problem. The idea has been to give as much strontium as possible without producing any serious damage to the marrow… Important information has been given by the radioactivity determination on the tissues of an adult female who died 3 days after the intravenous injection of a simple dose of 0.3 millicurie of Sr lactate (170mgm. Sr, August 19, 1940). The activity of the bones ranges from 0.05 to 0.15 microcuries per gram wet weight….Similar values were observed
in a patient with multiple myeloma who died two months after receiving 1.7
millicuries of radio-strontium per gram of tissue in one day gives
approximately the same ionisation as a dose of 37 r of X rays, according to
Dr. Aebersold, we may calculate that the total dose given to the bones if no Sr
was eliminated from the skeleton would be equivalent to 500 to 1,500 r. These
values are obviously much too high since strontium is continuously eliminated from the skeleton, as is evident from the other autopsy data. We may assume that an amount of radiation equivalent to 200 to 600 r is given to the bony tissues when 1 millicurie of Sr is intravenously injected in an adult. This rough calculation is only interesting as an indication of the order of the magnitude of
the dose of radio-strontium that should be necessary to obtain a therapeutic
effect on bone tumours. ” End Quote. [20]

The attempt to equate the dose
received from Sr89 as an internal emitter to an external dose from X rays by Aebersold is important and historic.
It is apparent the estimate is the result of a comparison of the known effects of
external X radiation doses and the observed effects of internal Sr89 as it
irradiated target tissue, the equivalence taking into account such complexities
as ionising effectiveness and local vs. whole body dose when comparing
internal Beta radiation in bone with external X ray. The external equivalent
dose arrived at by Aebersold demonstrates the effectiveness of internal Sr89 as a vector for delivery of radiation doses to specific local tissue compared to external X ray in treatment.

Was there an aspect of the work which might arouse military interest in
relation to the spread of this substance over enemy positions by any

The “Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation
Experiments” (US Department of Energy, 1995) as commissioned by
President Clinton states “The first proposed military application of atomic
energy was not nuclear Weaponry but radiological warfare (RW) — the use of
radioactive materials to cause injury. A May 1941 report by the National
Academy of Sciences listed the first option as the ”production of violently
radioactive materials , . . carried by airplanes to be scattered as bombs over
enemy territory.” [21]

In any such use, what would the military expect to happen to the enemy? On the basis of what knowledge?

Charles had spent the previous 15 months [22] manufacturing what turned
to be a fission product, via non-fission means, at the Berkeley Cyclotron.
He had described its relatively high energy beta radiation and rate of
radioactivity. [23] In the terms used by the National Academy of Sciences
report, Strontium 89 was “violently radioactive”. Strontium 89 has a rate of
radioactivity of 27,800 curies and emits comparatively high energy for a beta
emitter. [24] This is 27,800 times more ‘violently radioactive’ than the alpha
emitting radium. Alpha has a greater ionisation effectiveness than Beta. [25]

War time secrecy had been imposed on some information and activities of
Lawrence Crocker Laboratory. This had been due to the discovery and
isolation of Plutonium by Seaborg et al there in February 1941. That work
received a “Secret, Limited” security classification. [26] Charles Pecher
therefore worked in a classified setting.
John Lawrence wrote an obituary to Charles Pecher which was published in
December 1941: “In the death of Charles Pecher at the age of twenty-eight experimental medicine has lost a brilliant investigator who already had made important contributions in the application of nuclear physics to biology and
medicine…Because of his thorough training in both physics and medicine,
and due to his industry and brilliance, he soon made important contributions
the new field of artificial radioactivity…in his work using radioactive strontium he showed that strontium acts physiologically in a manner similar to calcium
the animal body and because of its localization in bone is now being used
experimentally in the treatment of neoplastic disease of bone.” [27]

The treatment of patients suffering bone cancer continued without Charles
Pecher on an experimental basis at Berkeley and then at San Francisco.
Marshall Brucer notes that Charles had spent only 15 months engaged in
Nuclear Medicine. In that time he originated only the third artificial radiopharmaceutical to that time (Strontium 89 chloride), after Phosphorous 32 and Iodine 131, and wrote six papers. [29]

The journal “Science” reported: “Patients hopelessly sick with cancer which
has spread to the bones from its original location in the breast or prostate gland are now being treated with radio-strontium, made by the atom-smashing cyclotron, was announced by the inventor, Professor E. O. Lawrence, of the University of California. It is too early to know what the results of this treatment will be, although favorable signs, including control of pain, have been observed.” [30]

The article reports further on Pecher’s findings : “Vitamin D, these studies
have shown, both promotes the absorption of calcium and in other ways
promotes mineralization of bone”. [31] (That Pecher originated the knowledge
is acknowledged later in the article.)
Sunshine is a primary source of vitamin D in humans.

Sunshine has a certain ring to those aware of the global fallout monitoring program.

C.D. Leake, the editor of the final Pecher paper, wrote of his own experiences during World War 1. Attached to the Chemical Warfare Service, Leake’s job was to study the effects of toxic gases on people. Leake describes Charles Pecher and his work and writes that Charles “was killed in the war.” Leake further writes that “With the war (WW2) upon us, we turned our attention to war gases, the use of which had been threatened by the Japanese.” [32]
An interview, dated 17 December 1979, was conducted by Sally Smith
Hughes with the scientist Kenneth G. Scott, formerly of the Crocker
Laboratory. Hughes and Scott discuss Charles Pecher and his work. Hughes
asks about the death of Charles being caused by warfare. Scott replies in the
negative. Hughes and Scott then discuss the war story as perhaps being a
cover. [33] (It is my personal opinion that the LBL has carried the can for the
actions of the Belgian government in regard to the suicide of Dr Pecher long

The Crocker Radiation Laboratory staff Pecher acknowledges as assisting in
his work included: Professor E.O. Lawrence, Dr. John H. Lawrence, Dr. J.G.
Hamilton, Dr. L.A. Erf, Professor W.F. Libby and Dr Paul Aebersold. [34] To
those readers familiar with the history of the development and testing of
nuclear weapons in the Cold War setting, these names, with exception of Dr L.A. Erf, will be very familiar. Their roles in the Fallout health effects studies of the Cold War era will be examined in a later section. In this work the records of Dr Pecher’s research and patient notes take on increasing prominence in the historical record as the Cold War progressed.

Some Manhattan Project documents which continue the work of Charles
Pecher in regard to the biological effects of internalised Strontium 89 include:
Hamilton, J., letter to Robert S. Stone, military application of fission products,
pp. 4, May 16 1943. In this letter Dr. J. Hamilton suggested the use of radio
strontium as a radiological weapon. He proposed that it be spread over
enemy food and water supplies. Secret.
Hamilton, J. G., “Metabolism of Fission Products, Progress report for Period
Ending April 15 1944, Argonne National Laboratory”, April 22 1944. Secret.
US Department of Energy document Number QH-2311 Copy 23A, 717338
“Metallurgical Project, A.H. Compton – Project Director, Robert S. Stone,
M.D., – Associate Project Director Health” “Report for Month Ending October 31/1944”. “C. Biological Research – K.S. Cole, Section Chief. A. Radioactive Materials – Mammals. 6. Chronic Effects of Sr89. Report received November 10, 1944.” “II. University of California – Radiation Laboratory – J.G. Hamilton and Associates, Technical Progress Report on Metabolic Studies of Fission Products.” Secret.

That the long term military interest and control continued regarding human
data relating to internalised Sr89 is evidenced by the April 6 1954 Letter to Dr. L. Dunham from Dr Joseph Hamilton re medical use of radioisotopes:

“Dear Chuck: Please find enclosed the available data from the University of
California Hospital which was compiled by members of Stone’s staff who
incidentally are quite unaware of the classified nature of this material. I
discussed this matter with Dr. Stone and told him that it should not be
discussed with anyone in the Division of Radiology with the exception of the
two of us.” …” The picture is not too clear since a number of patients
received stable strontium and several others received some amounts of
radio-strontium.” “Our own experimental program is progressing very nicely using both rats and monkeys.”

“The use of radioactive strontium, (Sr89) in the treatment of patients…the
rationale, based on experimental animal studies with metastatic carcinoma
to bone and in osteogenic sarcoma was initiated in 1940 by Charles
Pecher….Pecher’s experimental findings were confirmed by Treadwell (Mrs.
Anne de G. Low-Beer) , et al, who investigated uptake of radio-strontium
by bone tumours in six patients prior to biopsy or amputation.” Secret.

The papers authored by Pecher disclose treatment doses in humans and over
dose consequences in animals in the period of academic publication from
1940 to 1942.

The metabolic and dosimetry studies commenced by Pecher are shown to be
continued within the work conducted by Dr Joseph Hamilton after 1942. This
work was contracted to Hamilton by the OSRD and then the Manhattan
Project from 1942. [35]

Pecher’s 1941 (published 1942) report that variations in dietary calcium varied
the uptake and retention of oral Sr89 has been noted above. See reference
19. In a periodic Progress Report of 1944 to the Manhattan Project chain of
command, Dr Hamilton wrote “The most effective means of reducing the
absorption of Sr* from the intestinal tract is the maintenance of an adequate
or high calcium intake. This may be accomplished by increased use of milk
and dairy products, by taking medicinal calcium regularly, or by use of bread
fortified with calcium. The important factor is apparently the general level of
calcium intake rather than the amount present in the intestinal tract at the
moment.” [36] This is a re report of earlier civilian medical research for military purposes. The intent to reduce the uptake and retention of any isotope of strontium (Sr*) in the military context includes that of radio protection of troops on the nuclear battlefield and of civilians under atomic attack by a foe.

It has been shown that prior to July 1944 the Manhattan Project possessed
knowledge that Sr89 would be generated over any cities attacked by atomic bombs. Due to Pecher’s medical reports, the Manhattan Project possessed knowledge that internalised Sr89 above a cited dose produced a given and quantified degree of damage to the bone marrow and that this produced a given and negative impact on the white cell count in the first instance. This results in harm to the individual. In this regard Pecher reported that the impact of Sr89 was less than that produced by internalised P32.

Not only did the United States hold the knowledge that P32 would be induced
within the bones of the bomb exposed people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but
that organization also knew what the effects upon the people would be in
terms of marrow damage and resultant blood changes for given range of
doseage. In areas affected by fallout, the authorities also knew Sr89 would
have effects as defined by the medicine as practised and reported by Pecher
prior to his death in 1941.

Due to Pecher, Hamilton was able to suggest a protective measure against all
isotopes of radio strontium generated by the fission of uranium and plutonium.
Pecher’s Sr89 palliative pain relief treatment for secondary cancers of breast and prostate to bone was not approved for use until 1993 in the US and 1986 in Canada. [37]
The delay of many decades in the release of Pecher’s treatment is ignored by the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments in its Final Report
to President Clinton in 1995. That report found that the Manhattan Project and Atomic Energy Commission aided nuclear medicine and “encouraged
researchers to explore new applications”. [38] I discuss reasons for the delay in the use of Pecher’s Sr89 treatment in a later section.

end quote.

War is the reverse of medicine. All weapons inflict injury based upon medical concepts.

Dr Pecher aimed to ease suffering. The data he originated in pursuit of pain relief was used after his death in the pursuit of nuclear war.

All nuclear weapons generate the radio isotopes of Strontium.

Until the advent of the gas proof nuclear reactor, nuclear reactors will vent these radio isotopes in the course of normal operation.

Strontiium 89 in contact with skin causes beta radiation burns.

It was in my researching of the Black Mist incident and Lallie Lennon’s skin injury that I discovered the work of Dr Pecher. Australian Atomic Test authorities possessed the foresight in 1953 to predict the harms inflicted upon Lallie and others.

The official denials of harms inflicted in Australia by the detonation of atomic bombs are contradicted by medical documents published in the 1940s.

The Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee had one thing in mind. Keeping the Atomic Tests safe from public opinion by suppression of the truth.

Tranisent leucopenia.

How many Australians suffered it in the 1950s? How many went on to develop later fatal illnesses? How many died at the time?

The current medical use of Sr89 is found here:

GE Website:

It is illegal to administer Sr89 to people without sufficient medical reason. That is, as a pain relief method for people suffering secondary cancer to bone.

That did not stop the British and Australian governments from dispersing it widely in fallout clouds.

Gram for for gram Sr89 is much more radioactive than Sr90 and more of it is produced per kiloton of bomb yield.

It is an immediate rather than long term hazard.

It affected people at the time of the tests. The most vulnerable mammals are the fetus, the nursing infant and the mother.

Charles Pecher showed this in 1942. Dr. Pecher was a brilliant man who deserves credit for seeing suffering and trying to heal it. His insights must not be lost.

The modern modern marketers of his treatment fail to acknowledge him.

Authorities need to explain why his treatment was denied to the public from 1942 to 1993.

Let me give the following example.
“During the 2 days before evacuation, the Rongelap people lived under conditions of extreme contamination without any concerted
efforts to protect themselves against the dangers of internal contamination. These individuals drank contaminated water, and ate their natural foodstuffs which were contaminated externally. Their hands
were contaminated; they inhaled and obviously ingested certain indeterminate amounts of material.

The body burdens of isotopes in these individuals was evaluated by radiochemical analysis of the urine of the exposed people and assisted by studies on swine. These swine were removed from the island at a
later date. The urinary and fecal excretion was studied and ultimately the animals were killed. Extensive radiochemical analyses
were made of their entire bodies. By comparison, approximations of body burdens of radio-nuclides was made. From a combination of primary excretion and animal studies estimates were made of the probable body burden.

Rare and alkaline earths accounted for about 70 percent of the urine radioactivity. Strontium 89 was about at the maximum permissible level……”


This begs the question as to when the baseline data relating to the “maximum permissible level of Strontium 89” was determined.

The answer, as I show above, was in the 1940s.

It also begs the question why as to why British and Australian authorities did not follow established procedures, as outlined by Cronkite above, during and after the Black Mist incident of October 1953. For Titterton, of the Australian Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee, was subject to the command and control of both USA and the United Kingdom at the same time he was paid, by Australians, to ensure the safety of Australians.

There are still those in Australia who maintain no-one was harmed by the British Atomic Tests in Australia.

Before I turn to Andrew Bolt and his position, I will look at an admission made by a Minister of the Australian Government a few years ago.

In the hands of a surgeon, a specialised knife heals. In the hands of a soldier a knife can maime and kill.

Likewise, in the hands of Doctor Pecher, strontium 89 eased the suffering of the dying. In the hands of the nuclear weaponeers, the same substance maimed, injured and killed. Radiation is a double edged sword.

Unlike strontium 90, the “popular” fallout component, Strontium 89 is short lived. It is significant immediately. Deny the victims exist at the time, and they and their suffering might be lost to history. Strontium 89 is a tactical component of fallout. Strontium 90 slowly built up in the biosphere, and in trace amounts is still present world wide.

Official Project Sunshine reports state that Strontium 90 from nuclear weapons fallout caused no harm.

The GE datasheet for Strontium 89 states that most rats injected with small amounts of Sr89 developed bone cancer within a nine month window.

Australian atomic test officials did not discuss in public the health impacts of Strontium 89. They only cited the Beagle studies relating to Sr90. The weaker, longer lived isotope.

Dr. Pecher never intended his treatment to be released into the biosphere in an uncontrolled fashion. It is today a strictly controlled substance. Titterton would be arrested if he did now what he did in the 1950s with Strontium 89 and the more than 200 other fission products.

I doubt the US compelled Australia to treat its atomic victims with such contempt and ignorance. Australia was bombed with nuclear weapons on Her Majesty’s Service, not by order of the USA.