Air Force finds no specific cancer-causing factors in missileer study so far

Air Force officials have found no specific factors at missile bases that would cause increased cancer risk so far in their study.

In February, Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, approved a comprehensive study design by the school to conduct a formal assessment related to specific cancer concerns raise by the missile community across related career fields and examine the possibility of of clusters of non-Hodgkin lymphoma at intercontinental ballistic missile bases.

Teams of medical and public health professionals recently presented their initial findings from an ongoing survey and study of cancer-related concerns at ICBM bases, including Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Air Force team visits Malmstrom to begin missileer cancer study

The teams consisted of members from the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine/Defense Centers for Public Health – Dayton; AFGSC’s Surgeon General Directorate; and Defense Health Agency, visited F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming; Minot AFB in North Dakota; and Malmstrom between Feb. 27 – March 7.

The USAFSAM Commander, Col. Tory W. Woodard, and AFGSC Command Surgeon, Col. Lee D. Williames, briefed Bussiere, his staff and subordinate command teams, on the study’s results thus far, stating that “at this time, no immediate factors were discovered that would be considered immediate concerns for acute cancer risks. It was also noted no specific factors had been found at Malmstrom AFB to indicate an elevated risk level, environmental or otherwise, present at that installation,” according to an AFGSC release.

Woodard said they will continue studying and investigating the cancer concern raised earlier this year.

As part of the study process, teams monitored for potential occupational and/or environmental exposures, such as per- and polyfluorinated substances, or PFAS, while recording concerns relayed by missile community personnel to the teams. These concerns included potential exposure to hazardous chemicals and compounds, fresh air availability, safety hazards while driving and fertility concerns, according to the Air Force.

Each of the ICBM bases had specific environmental and agricultural factors that will be considered as studies continue, according to the Air Force.

Land surrounding missile alert facilities, launch control centers and launch facilities is not owned by the government and the study teams noted that locations could contain additional unknown agricultural hazards, according to the Air Force.

Procedures for testing and cleaning the facilities varies across installations, creating inconsistencies, according to the Air Force.

Bussiere has directed the creation of a comprehensive environmental sampling plan across all job specialties and installations, as well as a directive that deep cleanings of the missile facilities must be implemented on an annual bases, according to the Air Force.

The sampling plan would be quarterly at all missile alert facilities and launch control centers and repeated to account for variations in locations and seasons, according to the Air Force.

Bussiere also directed that outdated signage noting the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls be updated and ending the practice of burning as a means of destroying classified materials inside the facilities, according to the Air Force.

The study process also found that communication and coordination between medical personnel and the missile community needs to improve. Bussiere directed his staff to look at the development of medical professionals assigned to ICBM units, like flight surgeons are assigned to flying units, so they have a better understanding of the environment and missions, according to the Air Force, including training and improved access to sensitive areas to assist with routine visits and acute events.

Bussiere also directed further engagement with those working with known occupational hazards to collect more data and information, and that preventative maintenance and environmental upgrades be prioritized while the ICBM replacement system, Sentinel, is being developed, according to the Air Force.

The Air Force will be holding another virtual town hall for the missile community on May 11.