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The risk to the United Kingdom population of zinc cadmium sulfide dispersion by the Ministry of Defence during the “cold war”
  1. P J Elliott1,
  2. C J C Phillips2,
  3. B Clayton3,
  4. P J Lachmann2
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Imperial College, University of London, St Mary's Campus, Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, UK
  2. 2Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 0ES, UK
  3. 3Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr P J Lachmann, Academy of Medical Sciences, 10 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH, UK;


Objectives: To estimate exposures to cadmium (Cd) received by the United Kingdom population as a result of the dispersion of zinc Cd sulfide (ZnCdS) by the Ministry of Defence between 1953 and 1964, as a simulator of biological warfare agents.

Methods: A retrospective risk assessment study was carried out on the United Kingdom population during the period 1953–64. This determined land and air dispersion of ZnCdS over most of the United Kingdom, inhalation exposure of the United Kingdom population, soil contamination, and risks to personnel operating equipment that dispersed ZnCdS.

Results: About 4600 kg ZnCdS were dispersed from aircraft and ships, at times when the prevailing winds would allow large areas of the country to be covered. Cadmium released from 44 long range trials for which data are available, and extrapolated to a total of 76 trials to allow for trials with incomplete information, is about 1.2% of the estimated total release of Cd into the atmosphere over the same period. “Worst case” estimates are 10 μg Cd inhaled over 8 years, equivalent to Cd inhaled in an urban environment in 12–100 days, or from smoking 100 cigarettes. A further 250 kg ZnCdS was dispersed from the land based sites, but significant soil contamination occurred only in limited areas, which were and have remained uninhabited. Of the four personnel involved in the dispersion procedures (who were probably exposed to much higher concentrations of Cd than people on the ground), none are suspected of having related illnesses.

Conclusion: Exposure to Cd from dissemination of ZnCdS during the “cold war” should not have resulted in adverse health effects in the United Kingdom population.

  • cadmium
  • environment
  • biological warfare
  • UV, ultraviolet
  • Cd, cadmium
  • ZnCdS, zinc cadmium sulfide

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