Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Wiki Enfield leaks
Actually.... The truth is more prosaic. The documents have long been declassified, so I wrote to the National Archives in the UK for them, and they were kind enough to send me a copy, prior payment of a fee. I was planning to scan them and upload them here, but they want another (more substantial) fee to allow me to do that and they want a "degradation of the image quality", which I am not even sure how to do. Remarkably , they allow to transcribe the documents without paying a fee, but they are lengthy and some parts boring so I will only transcribe small portions below.
Let's recap the story. According to a TV documentary (David Blasco covered the story, see also this link), the UK government spread biological agents in the air conditioning system of the Royal Enfield underground factory in Westwood in an experiment to test how bio agents would contaminate urban environments, particularly air conditioned buildings. The experiments were conducted in secret and no one at the factory knew what was going on. The documentary interviews some ex-workers visibly upset. Also, the underground quarries had vents around town in Westwood and presumably the biological agents could have escaped through there and affected the community. The documentary sounds a very ominous tone, although it does not claim anyone was made sick.
Part of the reason I spent money on these documents was that I was expecting all sorts of juicy details about the underground factory. To my chagrin, there is no mention of the Royal Enfield factory at all in the documents! The trials were conducted in 1952 in the underground quarry that had been used in World War II to stock the art treasures of the British Museum to preserve them from the German bombings. The quarry was by then empty, but was kept air conditioned, no explanation why (readers who enjoy the BBC series "Yes Minister" will recall a special Parliamentary inquiry in which the minister was asked about a similar situation, around minute 9:00 here). The quarry was adjacent to the one occupied by the Royal Enfield factory. Permission was sought from the British Museum to use it, apparently the quarry was still under its jurisdiction.
Here are some quotes from the document: "In 1937, before the work of conversion was undertaken for the British Museum, the quarry chambers were exceedingly wet and the supporting pillars, the roofs, and the floors all dripped copious amounts of water. Extensive air conditioning plant was installed, the floors were levelled and concreted, and the walls and ceilings cleaned and sealed with special compound.
At present the air is drawn not from the surface atmosphere but from the old quarry workings where the temperature is constant at 53F and saturated throughout the year. The air is heated, circulated by pumps through plenum ducts , and for many years not the air in the repository has been maintained constant within one degree of 68F with a relative humidity of 53%. The air in the repository is under positive pressure and circulation occurs by teh air finding its way back to the surface largely through the main entrance tunnel.
On inspection of the repository, it was decided that one area known as the "carpet room" and maked A in Plate 1, being almost self contained, could with minimal structural alteration be converted into a suitable test chamger. The area was isolated by a light partition in which were incorporated an airtight door and a double-ended hatch for the passing in and out of small laboratory apparatus, e.g. impingers, while trials were proceeding."
"In view of the fact that personnel were liable to be exposed to massive dosage of bacterial aerosol twice weekly over a period of several weeks, it was considered necessary to provide the fullest degree of protection. Personnel undressed completely and donned cellular type under-vests and pants, and woollen socks. On top of this was worn a gaberdine overall with double flapped legs and sleeves. Rubber Wellington boots and surgeons rubber gloves were worn. Respirator with bacterial filter complete with hood was used."
"The site of the experiment was sub divided into a clean (laboratory) area and the chamber (dirty) area. Personnel were not allowed to move from clean to dirty areas or vice versa until completion of an experiment without taking proper precautions, e.g. dressing or undressing".
What one concludes from reading the document is that they were extra careful in isolating the area where the tests were conducted. In no way did they just spray the biological agents into the central air conditioning system. One imagines if they were being so careful about an empty quarry, they would have been concerned about causing some problems to the other quarry where the factory operated, especially if they shared the air conditioning system.
Of course, the document does not prove anything. It could be that they were careless and contaminated the factory. It could be that they do not mention the Royal Enfield factory to obscure that possibility. Most people involved by now probably have passed away, so we will never know for sure. I guess this will remain another Enfield mystery!