Monday, July 5, 2010

The 1960 Nuclear Accident in Ocean County, New Jersey

All of us have "earliest memories." One of my early memories is so vague and improbable that I wasn't sure whether it is a vague memory of reality or a memory of a vague dream. It runs like this...

It is around 1960. I am 7 years of age, asleep in my parents' home in the Frankford section of Philadelphia. It is the middle of the night. A loud roaring on the street outside awakens me. I get up out of bed and look out. There I see a very large tractor-trailer, where the trailer is a flatbed carrying a large white missile. It looked like this...

...but the rear 2/3s of the missile on the flatbed was covered with a light-colored tarp.

I thought something to myself like, "The government moves rockets through the streets at night?"

Again, was that real, or just the memory of a dream?

Years later, a kind of X-Files-style "Deep Throat" walked up to me in Municipal Court in New Jersey and told me something that suggested to me that it might have not been a dream.

"Deep Throat" was a government researcher who had done work on the effects of acid rain. He said, "You look like a pretty good lawyer. Could you help me with something? Some lawyers are suing some companies for polluting the water table in Toms River, Ocean County, New Jersey, causing some very exotic cancers in Toms River. Could you call those lawyers and tell them that a the government's own research indicates that the government caused the Toms River cancer deaths?

"It happened like this. In 1960, a BOMARC Missile in Fort Dix, Burlington County, armed with a plutonium nuclear warhead, exploded and caught fire. Local volunteer fire companies responding to the fire poured water on the flames, spreading plutonium shrapnel all over the site. Many of the firemen died of radiation poisoning. The government responded to the mess by covering it over with a sheet of concrete and throwing up a fence around it.

"Everything was fine until along came acid rain. As certain industries in the United States and Canada began spewing exhaust into the atmosphere, the particles in the exhaust mixed with water in the clouds and generated acid rain.

"Acid rain, it turns out, mixed with the plutonium in the soil beneath the concrete at the Fort Dix site, and formed the only plutonium compound which is water-soluable. So, extremely radioactive plutonium began issuing-forth out from under the concrete pad in Burlington County, into the water table. It washed into the headwaters of streams which ended-up in Toms River, in Ocean County, New Jersey. I believe that the plutonium was sucked-into the water supply system of Toms River, New Jersey, causing all of those people to die of the exotic cancers, there. The lawyers should be suing the United States government -- not those companies. I think that those companies are innocent of any wrongdoing."

I went back to my office and checked out "Deep Throat's" facts. He was mostly correct. In the 1950s, the government began erecting BOMARC Missile sites near several US cities. The BOMARC Missile, I was surprised to learn, relied on the same kind of technology as the rumored Aurora spyplane -- a rocket engine lifted the BOMARC into the air, and sped it up to above the speed of sound, when the speed of the air entering intakes on the BOMARC was large enough to enable ramjets to take over the load. Ramjets carried the BOMARC to up to 65,000 feet, and a Westinghouse tracking system enabled the BOMARC to zero-in on flights of incoming bombers. When the BOMARC was close enough, the on-board 8 to 10 kiliton plutonium device would explode, destroying the enemy bombers.

On June 7, 1960, a tank of Helium in one of these nuclear-armed BOMARC Missiles, at a small BOMARC missile launch site in the Ocean County end of Fort Dix, New Jersey, in Plumstead Township, just off County Route 539 about 2 miles north of Route 70, exploded, setting-off a huge fire. I could not find an article verifying that firemen had died, but a 1960 article by David Neese of the Trentonian verified that "military firefighters and volunteers from nearby small towns began to converge on the scene." Neese added, though the government had assured personnel that there was no danger from radioactivity, "Some of the small-town firefighters at the scene wondered, though. They'd noticed the 'green men' poking and probing around the base. These were eight-man military nuclear warfare whose members wore green protective outfits." I.e., if there was zero danger from radiation, why were they wearing radiation suits?

Finally, checking maps, I verified that the site was close to headwaters of streams emptying into Toms River.

I examined photos of BOMARC Missiles, and, sure enough, that's what the missile on the flatbed looked-like in my memory, jutting from beneath the tarp, in size and shape. Probably, a crew was rushing a replacement missile to Fort Dix, and became lost in Northeast Philadelphia.

In any event, I decided that I was looking at probable cause, and so I contacted one of the lawyers in the Toms River lawsuit.

They weren't interested in what the whistleblower, "Deep Throat," had to say. They explained, "Look, we're really close to a settlement, here. If you're right, the defendants and their insurance carriers will be 'off the hook.' We will have to start over from scratch, and probably spend decades fighting a government which doesn't want to take responsibility."

So, nothing happened.

But I wonder if anyone else is dying of exotic forms of cancer in Toms River.


  1. i was stationed at Mcguire afb and trained the storage facility that had been adandoned because a radioactive incident. I have been dianosed with a rare blood disorder possiable cancer

  2. I did basic training at Ft Dix in '86 and also have a rare blood cancer.