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AFGSC Commander directs action based on initial research findings

  • Published
  • By Col. Brus Vidal and Capt. Joshua Thompson
  • Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

Teams of medical and public health experts recently presented initial findings taken from an ongoing survey and study of cancer-related concerns at Air Force Global Strike Command’s intercontinental ballistic missile bases.

The teams, consisting 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, Wyoming; Minot AFB, North Dakota; and Malmstrom AFB, Montana, between Feb. 27 - March 7.

The USAFSAM Commander, Col. Tory W. Woodard, and the AFGSC Command Surgeon, Col. Lee D. Williames, briefed AFGSC Commander Gen. Thomas A. 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.

“This does not mean that continued study will not occur,” Woodard said. “We at USAFSAM are absolutely dedicated to transparently and fully investigating the cancer concern brought forward. We will continue to study and investigate.”

During the study process, the teams monitored for potential occupational and/or environmental exposures*, 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.

Briefing the commander, additional findings were noted.

Across the ICBM installations, each location possessed specific local environmental and agricultural factors which will need to be considered as studies continue. The land surrounding Missile Alert Facilities, Launch Control Centers, and Launch Facilities is also not owned by the government and thus it was noted locations could contain additional unknown agricultural hazards. Additionally, the currently established procedures for both testing and for cleaning the various facilities differ from installation to installation as well, creating inconsistencies between locations.

In response, establishment of a comprehensive environmental sampling plan  across all job specialties and across installation was directed by Bussiere, in addition to his direction that deep cleanings of facilities must be implemented on a recurring basis. The sampling plan would occur at all MAFs and LCCs quarterly, and repeated to account for variations in locations and seasons.

Outdated signage denoting the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls was taken note of as well, which Bussiere directed to be updated. Updates were also initiated by the general to do away with burning as a means of destroying classified materials inside the facilities.

It was further established that communication and coordination between medical personnel and missile community members needed to be improved. The commander directed his staff to explore the development of medical professionals specifically assigned to ICBM units, much like flight surgeons assigned to flying units, so as to have a better understanding of the environment and missions. This would include training and improved access to sensitive areas for those medical personnel, to assist with routine visits and acute events.

Bussiere also ordered further engagement with personnel who work with known occupational hazards in order to collect more data and information, and that preventative maintenance and environmental upgrades be prioritized while awaiting the eventual replacement of the Minuteman III ICBM with the LGM-35A Sentinel, scrutinizing any upgrade or new piece of equipment adopted for hazards.

Those areas of concern and the substantial updates outlined to AFGSC leadership by Woodard will be addressed in a virtual town hall for missile community members on May 11, covering updates on the ongoing study, key action taken, and continuing concerns.


*The potential exposures monitored include:

Per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) such as perfluorooctyl sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOS/PFOA), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, organophosphates (agricultural spraying of pesticides), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), air quality/air exchanges per hour, water quality, burning of materials in LCCs, ozone or other airborne contaminants, off-gassing of hydrogen from motors and batteries, carbon monoxide and diesel fumes/exhaust, sodium chromate solution, hypergolic fuels (monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer), radon, and fungicidal cork exposure.