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Dismantled missile sites likely contain hazardous chemicals, AFGSC says

Certain harmful chemicals were likely present at intercontinental ballistic missile bases that have since been decommissioned, the Air Force Global Strike Command said in a memorandum published May 20.

The Air Force has found evidence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – which may be carcinogenic – at active Minuteman III ICBM bases as part of its ongoing Missile Community Cancer Study, which is investigating the health of personnel who worked around the nation’s land-based bases . nuclear missiles. Specifically, samples from the Missile Alert Facilities (MAFs) at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., and Minot Air Force Base, ND, produced PCB samples at levels above federal standards, requiring cleanup of those parts of those facilities.

PCBs were commonly used in electronics until they were banned in the US in the late 1970s. As a result, older, decommissioned sites likely harbored PCBs that the Air Force cannot directly document, meaning service members who served around Titan and Peacekeeper missiles, as well as Minutemen, may have been exposed.

The new memo from AFGSC commander Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere “recognizes that PCBs are likely present in decommissioned Titan and Peacekeeper missile facilities where the Air Force no longer has the ability to conduct sampling,” the command said in a press release.

“The memorandum is intended for military personnel who served in the missile fields and need to document their potential exposure to PCBs for discussions with health care providers or Veterans Affairs,” the release added.

Environmental samples from the study, which Bussiere commissioned early last year, cover only the three current ICBM bases – Malmstrom, Minot and FE Warren Air Force Base, Wyo. – and Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, where ICBM test launches take place. . Officials have not investigated decommissioned facilities, which for the most part no longer exist. But AFGSC says the preponderance of evidence indicates PCBs were likely present in disused facilities.

“This environmental sampling effort revealed the continued presence of PCBs in the Minuteman MAFs, despite an extensive removal effort in the 1990s,” Bussiere wrote in the memo. “While it was not possible to sample decommissioned sites for the Peacekeeper and Titan weapon systems, a review of technical data showed that PCB-containing components were likely used in those alert and control families, given their construction timeframe.”

The first Titan missiles were deployed in the late 1950s, while the Titan II remained in service until 1987. Peacekeeper missiles were operational from 1986 to 2005.

“One of the persistent concerns we heard during the Missile Community Cancer Study is that military personnel, retirees and veterans have difficulty explaining their concerns about potential exposure to toxic chemicals to their health care providers, especially civilian health care providers who do not have access to military-medical databases,” Col. Gregory Coleman, AFGSC surgeon general, said in a news release. “While this memorandum from Global Strike Command cannot reflect the specifics of any individual Airman or Guardian serving in the missile fields, it can serve as a starting point for discussions and documentation of potential exposure.”

The memorandum notes missile warning facilities that have been used sometime since 1970 – and therefore may contain PCBs – including all active ICBMs, as well as deactivated sites at:

  • McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.
  • Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.
  • Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
  • Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
  • Ellsworth Air Force Base, SD
  • Grand Forks Air Force Base, ND
  • Disused locations at FE Warren and Malmstrom

“I understand the frustration and difficulties that former military personnel may experience when trying to obtain care for conditions related to their military service,” Bussiere said in a statement. “Documenting potential exposures is one small step we can take to hopefully make that process easier for our Air Force and Space Force veterans.”