The U.S. government’s reliance in the 1940s and 1950s on a large network of private plants, mills, and shops to build the country’s first nuclear arsenal led to huge environmental problems and major health consequences, concludes a USA Today investigation. The government knew that the hundreds of contractors were ill-prepared for the hazards of handling radioactive materials, and workers were often exposed to levels of radiation that were hundreds of times stronger than safety limits at the time. Studies even then showed some operations putting hundreds of pounds of uranium dust into the air each month and others dumping thousands of pounds of wastes on the ground or into waterways.