Earlier this month I had the opportunity to talk once again with Dr Tory Woodard, Commander of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM) to get an update on the Missile Community Cancer Study (MCCS). As most of you that are following this closely know, results of round one of the study were recently released. While environmental results were reassuring for our active-duty force, there is more study work to do. There will a total of three rounds of testing (round two is underway) to ensure the study also addresses seasonal fluctuations due to things like farming, heat vs air conditioning, etc. according to Dr. Woodard. As the Air Force works to ensure the work conditions are safe for our current alert force, I asked Dr Woodard about the work conditions of those who served in the past and at other locations. As you all know, with few exceptions, all of the sites at Whiteman, Ellsworth, and Grand Forks were destroyed. Dr Woodard noted that the team is working on how to document past exposure. The ongoing epidemiologic study does include individuals who served at these locations. In addition, USAFSAM and AFGSC are aware of current Museum locations and the insights it might provide to a pre-REACT capsule configuration and are in discussions on how best to potentially address any concerns at these former sites.
The study team has visited all three active wings on multiple occasions and visited Vandenberg in fall 2023. As noted in the Round 1 study report, there were indications of PCB residue in a number of capsules which resulted in discussions about whether all PCBs were removed. The Minuteman System Program Office (SPO) is actively working the issue of PCB residue cleanup where required, and to identify any remaining PCBs inside the acoustical enclosure. The study team is also looking at sampling additional/different locations on the bases based on feedback from current and active crews and maintainers.
The team is in the process of working a plan to visit additional missile launch facilities. Although visiting all 450 sites is an impossible task, the team will work with the Minuteman SPO to determine where PCBs were located in the past and if there might be any residual contamination. I reminded Dr Woodard that there were plenty of first-hand reports of PCB spills in the LF as there were in the LCCs. We addressed the hazardous chemicals used on a regular basis by our maintenance teams and he said the team is aware of those chemicals and are not discounting the impacts. Exposure to those chemicals should have been documented at the time of exposure and although it is not possible to retroactively document these exposures now, we anticipate that these factors will be taken into account when evaluating any increased cancer risks within the missile community, both past and present.
We discussed the team’s access to medical records of those who served in the past. Dr Woodard noted that there are multiple data bases that the team is gaining access to, including the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration electronic medical record systems, DoD and VA cancer registries, National Death Index data, and many state cancer registries. The epidemiologic study seeks to evaluate rates of cancer among those who served within the missile community, to include missile operators, maintainers, security forces, and facility managers. Both the Veterans Administration and USAFSAM now have websites where you can get the most recent information. You can find those at https://www.airforcemedicine.af.mil/Resources/Missile-Community-Cancer-Study/ and https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/missileers/
AAFM will continue to ask questions of the Air Force and the USAFSAM team as we monitor progress. As mentioned before, if you or a family member are impacted, we encourage you to register at the Torchlight website: https://torchlightinitiative.org/
James F. Warner