AFGSC orders cleanup after PCBs found at two missile launch facilities

Air Force Global Strike Command officials said Aug. 7 that initial test results found polychlorinated biphenyls at two locations as part of the missile community cancer study.

AFGSC said it is taking steps to cleanup and mitigate the PCBs.

The intercontinental ballistic missile nuclear alert mission is not affected during the cleanup and mitigation, according to AFGSC.

A team of bioenvironmental experts reported PCB sampling results from Malmstrom Air Force Base, on Aug. 4, the first from an extensive sampling of active U.S. ICBM bases to address specific cancer concerns raised by missile community members across related career fields, according to AFGSC.

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

Gen. Thomas Bussiere, AFGSC commander, directed 20th Air Force to take immediate action to clean up the PCBs and mitigate exposure to airmen, according to AFGSC.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs are an oily or waxy substance manufactured in the United States from 1929 to 1979, after which they were banned. They were broadly used across industries in electrical, heat transfer, and hydraulic equipment and can persist for long periods in the environment. The EPA considers them a probable human carcinogen.

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This summer, teams from the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and the Defense Centers for Public Health went to all three ICBM bases to test for exposure hazards within the missile alert facilities as part of the ongoing missile community cancer study.

The teams gathered water and soil samples to test for radon, polychlorinated biphenyls and organic phosphates.

Air Force team visits Malmstrom to begin missileer cancer study

The team conducted additional testing to identify any hazardous conditions related to indoor air quality. Samples would identify if there are any harmful levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ambient temperature and humidity.

The teams conducted air and swipe testing for PCBs and other contaminants at Malmstrom from June 22-29.

All air samples from the launch control centers and the launch control support building were non-detectable for PCBs, according to AFGSC.

Three hundred surface swipe samples were taken from across all Malmstrom launch control centers.

Of the swipes, 279 returned non-detectable results.

Of the 21 with detectable results, 19 were below the mitigation level established by federal law and regulation, according to AFGSC.

Results are pending from samples taken at F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming, and Minot AFB in North Dakota analyzing air and surface tests. Results for completed ground and water samplings from all three ICBM bases are also yet to be finalized. When these results are finalized, the USAFSAM-DCPH team will be able to analyze the results in aggregate to guide a comprehensive and holistic response including recommended actions in the future, according to AFGSC.

Bussiere will be holding another round of townhalls to provide another opportunity for two-way communication between medical experts and the missile community.

The next steps are to analyze the samples and fuse the data into a format that helps USAFSAM toward additional steps, if needed.

“Each stage of data and sample collection builds upon itself,” Col. Tory Woodard, commander, USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, said in a release. “It takes time to be meticulous, but it’s necessary because these are the data sets we will build the foundation of this study from. We need to really understand what these data are telling us.”

In addition to the latest assessments, the study continues to examine medical data from uniformed personnel, and from the veteran community, who have worked in or around ICBM facilities, as well as cancer registry data from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, according to AFGSC.

The initial review of ICBM facilities conducted from late February 2023 to early March 2023 found no readily discernible link between the buildings and cancer, but the preliminary assessment recommended a deep cleaning of each launch control facility and to modify existing procedures related to personnel working within certain radio frequency boundaries. There was also a recommendation to stop burning classified materials while in the underground facility.

There is no projected time-limit to the study.

More information about PCBs is here.

More information about the missile community cancer study is here.

If any airman, past or currently serving, or family member has a question about the ongoing cancer study, they should speak to their medical provider. Questions may also be submitted to the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General here.