The Troy Incident

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On April 27, 1953, at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, Professor Herbert Clark and his students entered a metal shack that served as a laboratory for their radiochemistry class. All the Geiger counters were registering radiation many times the normal rate. The students carried the radiation measuring devices to areas on campus noting the high readings. Assuming the previous night's heavy rains had washed some atmospheric radiation onto the campus, Dr. Clark contacted John Harley, an associate at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's Health and Safety office in New York City. Dr. Clark summarized the details of campus measurements from his class. Gamma radiation on the ground was ten to five hundred times normal; beta ray radiation was even higher and hot spots of even high readings were found in rainspouts and puddles.

Later that day, Dr. Clark learned there had been an atomic bomb test conducted by the AEC in the Nevada desert two days earlier. The mushroom cloud had reached 40,000 feet into the atmosphere then drifted 2,300 miles across the United States in a northeasterly direction. It passed over Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania before being caught up in a storm that dropped rain on upstate New York, southern Vermont and parts of Massachusetts.

Dr. Clark's students took their geiger counters on the road and began measuring the radioactivity on the ground, roof shingles and vegetation wherever they stopped in Albany, Saratoga Springs, and Schenectady, New York. Typical readings were twenty to one hundred times higher than normal. This has become known as "the Troy incident." - Source:, accessed 3/14/05

Thunderstorm in Troy

ON MONDAY MORNING, April 27, 1953, the small group of students in Professor Herbert Clark’s
radiochemistry class at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute walked into the metal shack that served as
their laboratory, located high on a hill overlooking the city of Troy in upper New York State. The
students set about making preparations for the day’s experiments, but then Professor Clark interrupted
to draw their attention to something unusual. All the Geiger counters were registering radiation at
many times the natural rate.

Since instruments nearest the outer walls were giving the highest readings, several students
immediately went outside with a portable Geiger counter. At once they found that wherever they
walked, the count rate on the ground was far above normal, in some places a thousand times as high.
In particular, beneath the spout of the gutters that carried the rainwater down off the roof of the shack,
the needle gave a disconcertingly high reading. Evidently the previous night’s heavy rains had
brought down large amounts of radioactivity.

Dr. Clark quickly guessed the source. Such high readings could only have come from heavy
deposits of fallout, the drifting clouds of radioactive debris created by the explosion of a nuclear
bomb in the atmosphere. To verify his guess, he phoned John Harley, a friend and former colleague
who now worked for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission’s Health and Safety Laboratory in New
York City. As one of Dr. Clark’s students recalled the story many years later, Harley’s first reaction
was that Clark must be kidding, and, expressing amused disbelief, he hung up. But a few minutes
later, New York called back. Dr. Clark summarized the details of the morning’s measurements: how
the count rate from the gamma radiation on the ground was anywhere from ten to five hundred times
normal, how the activity from beta rays had gone up even more, and how "hot spots" beneath
rainspouts and in puddles on the pavement showed still higher readings, much higher than he had ever
observed after other nuclear tests, when it had been hard to measure any additional radioactivity at all.
Thoroughly alarmed, the director of the New York Laboratory, Dr. Merrill Eisenbud, promised to
check personally into the situation, to send some of his top people to make their own measurements
on the spot, and to take any steps that might be called for to protect the public health.

For, as Dr. Clark had just learned, there had indeed been a recent atomic bomb test, conducted by
the AEC in Nevada two days earlier. The bomb, code-named Simon and equivalent in power to
43,000 tons of TNT, had been detonated in the atmosphere some 300 feet above the desert. The upper
portion of the mushroom cloud had reached an altitude of about 30,000 or 40,000 feet and then drifted
2300 miles across the United States in a northeasterly direction, passing high over Utah, Colorado,
Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania before it encountered a severe
thunderstorm in progress over most of upstate New York, southern Vermont, and parts of

The storm was an extraordinarily violent one, accompanied by extremely high winds, hail, and
torrential rains that flooded streets and basements, undermined foundations, and caused heavy damage
to trees and houses. It was one of the heaviest flash storms Dr. Clark could remember. The sudden
cloudburst, he surmised, had probably brought much of the fallout down in concentrated form. Dr.
Clark quickly put his students to work in an effort to determine just how serious and widespread the
danger might be.

Students set out with portable radiation detectors and began measuring the radioactivity on the
pavement, on pieces of cloth, on asphalt roof shingles, on burdock leaves and other vegetation—any
place it would be likely to collect and adhere. Samples were also taken of water from reservoirs and
household taps. Within a matter of hours the students were reporting back from such nearby towns
and cities as Watervliet, Mechanicville, Saratoga Springs, Albany, and Schenectady that everywhere
the radiation levels were about the same as on the campus. Typical readings were twenty to a
hundred times normal, with hot spots up to ten times higher than that.

Now knowing the radiation levels as well as the source and age of the fallout, Dr. Clark could
calculate that during the next ten weeks the total gamma radiation dose to the population from the
radioactivity in the environment would be, on the average, roughly equivalent to that received from a
typical diagnostic X-ray exposure. This was reassuring, since such a dose was not very different from
what most people in the world receive each year from the naturally occurring cosmic rays that
penetrate the earth’s atmosphere. And it was well below the maximum permissible dose limits set by
government agencies.

However, there was also the high radioactivity in the rainwater, which was certain to contaminate
the reservoirs and thus the tap water. The samples of rainwater collected from a puddle on the
campus had shown a radioactivity level of 270,000 micromicrocuries per liter, thousands of times
higher than the maximum levels then permitted by AEC standards, which were set at 100
micromicrocuries per liter. Normal drinking water usually had an activity of about 1 micromicrocurie
per liter.

There was, accordingly, much apprehension among the students until the samples of actual
drinking water from the taps and reservoirs could be analyzed early the next day. When this was
done, the first of the tap water samples, taken Monday night, showed an activity of 2630
micromicrocuries per liter—not as great as was feared, yet still well in excess of the limit. But by that
evening, the same tap gave a sample with a greatly decreased activity of 1210 per liter, while samples
from nearby Tomhannock Reservoir ranged from 580 to 960. The radioactive rain was evidently
becoming heavily diluted in the reservoir before reaching the taps in the households of Troy.
Thus, all concerned were greatly relieved that the total radiation doses received by the populace
would probably turn out to be relatively small. It would not be necessary to filter the drinking water
or decontaminate the streets and rooftops by means of elaborate and costly scrubbing procedures, a
monumental task in view of the tenacity with which the radioactivity had been found to cling to rough
surfaces such as pavement, asphalt shingles, and burdock leaves, and especially to porous materials
like paper and cloth. Dr. Clark and his students found that even treatment with hot, concentrated
hydrochloric acid—an extreme method—was only partially effective in removing the radioactivity
from the objects to which it clung. The class also conducted tests to determine the strength of this
radioactivity. Surprisingly, they found that it was comparable to that reported the previous year by
the AEC’s New York Laboratory for fallout in desert areas only 200 to 500 miles from the point of
detonation at the Nevada test site itself.

But the possible health effects of any internal doses that might result from eating, drinking, or
breathing the radioactivity were considered negligible by the New York State Health Department and
the AEC. And so it was decided that nothing further need be done. An editorial in the local
newspaper expressed some concern, but soon the whole incident was forgotten.

Meanwhile, however, Dr. Clark, under contract to the AEC, continued to monitor the levels of
radioactivity in the reservoirs, while AEC physicists, using an extremely sensitive gamma-ray
detector mounted in an airplane, conducted extensive surveys of the entire region. Detailed reports on
the findings were written by the staff of the New York Lab, but, since they were classified "secret,"
the public never learned of their contents.
All that appeared was the following brief statement in the
14th Semi-Annual Report of the Atomic Energy Commission for the first half of 1953:
After one detonation, unusually heavy fallout was noted as far from Nevada as the Troy-
Albany area in New York. Following a heavy rain in that area on the second day after the
detonation, the concentration of radioactivity was from 100 to 200 curies per square mile. It is
estimated that this level of radioactivity would result in about 0.1 roentgen exposure for the
first 13 weeks following the fallout. The exposure has no significance in relation to health.
One fact the AEC did not announce, and the general public did not learn, since it was later
published by Dr. Clark in the obscure, highly specialized Journal of the American Water Works
Association, was that, as the AEC continued its nuclear testing in Nevada during the spring of 1953,
further rainouts repeatedly raised the radioactivity in the reservoirs serving Troy to levels comparable
to those measured by Dr. Clark and his students the morning after the "Simon" rainout in April.

The paragraphs of "Thunderstorm in Troy" are excerpts from "Secret Fallout: Low-Level radiation from Hiroshima to Three Mile Island," by Ernest Sternglass. Read it online at

See also "A Good Day Has No Rain: The Truth about How Nuclear Test Fallout contaminated Upstate New York," by Bill Heller, January 2005 ISBN 0878755462. Editorial Reviews:

In the early 1950's, Cold War tension reached its most fervent level.Despite the risk of exposing innocent Americans to cancer causing radiation, the United States Government decided that domestic atom bomb testing was "essential to the national defense." This decision, combined with an extremely violent storm, caused New York's Capital Region to receive excessive amounts of radioactive fallout in April of 1953. Fifty years later, this information is still widely unknown because of government cover-ups. Following 15 years of research, Bill Heller has produced "A Good Day Has No Rain" which contains what may be the only independent scientific data from these tests. This moving work introduces us to the storm's impact on the region, exposes government deception, and documents the 50-year process in which scientists and journalists gradually uncovered the truth. Teeming with startling facts, "A Good Day Has No Rain" opens eyes, and forces the reader to consider the dramatic lengths that the U.S.government went to in order to disguise the true impact nuclear testing has had on the American public.

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