Washington State University College of Pharmacy

United States Transuranium & Uranium Registries

Hanford Autopsy Study

History of the USTUR

In 1949 the Hanford site initiated “…a modest program of postmortem tissue sampling at autopsy…”, which collected bone, lung, and liver samples from Hanford workers as well as other residents of Richland, Washington (Nelson et al. 1972; Newton et al 1966, Newton et al 1968).  These Hanford autopsy samples, along with a few samples from other tissues, were radiochemically analyzed for plutonium in an effort to determine deposition sites for plutonium within the body and to compare data from post-mortem tissue samples to the values predicted by biokinetic models and excretion data.

The AEC Rocky Flats Facility also conducted limited post mortem sampling of occupationally exposed individuals. Studies of plutonium in the general population were initiated by Los Alamos Scientific (now National) Laboratory (LANL) in 1959 (Campbell et al. 1972) and the U.S. Public Health Service in the early 1960’s (Magno et al. 1969).

The Hanford Autopsy Study

The Hanford Autopsy Study was an early human tissue research program that collected and radiochemically analyzed tissue samples in an effort to:

(1) provide hospital pathologists with information on plutonium concentrations and doses within the body such that they could evaluate possible correlations between plutonium deposition and various diseases and

(2) provide a basis for assessing the effectiveness of occupational and environmental protection measures at the Hanford plutonium production site (Bruner 1968).

The Hanford autopsy study was initially presented in May of 1967 at the Seventh Annual Hanford Symposium on Biology held in Richland (Newton et al. 1968). Low, measurable levels of plutonium were found in the tissues of the local residents and Hanford site workers. However, most of the plutonium in the tissues was apparently attributable to fallout from nuclear weapons tests rather than occupational exposures or environmental releases from the Hanford site, although the highest individual tissue concentrations of plutonium were observed in the pulmonary lymph nodes of a worker with a history of occupational exposure. The study found that liver depositions were generally greater than depositions in the lung.  Data from the collected bone samples were equivocal and a plea for further investigation and collaboration with other plutonium handling facilities was expressed.

The concluding paper at this meeting was given by H. D. Bruner of the Atomic Energy Commission Division of Biology and Medicine. Bruner proposed that a national Plutonium Registry be formed, graciously noting that the idea was not his own, but rather it had "…occurred to many men [at] about the same time." Such a registry would serve to correlate data from accidental plutonium intakes with the subsequent worker health records. He sketched the basic information and operating requirements for such a registry and noted that the Plutonium Registry should consider not only plutonium but other transuranium elements as well.


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