From the blog

Asbestos and Other Carcinogens Were in U.S. Missile Silos

Published: February 23, 2024

The U.S. Air Force is investigating asbestos and other carcinogens at nuclear missile bases. According to the Associated Press, the use of these carcinogens dates back to the 1980s. There are reports showing that the Air Force knew about the toxic chemicals being used at nuclear launch silos for decades. Documents reveal that there were several leaks and spills at bases around the country over several years. Records describe repeated spills and leaks affecting service members who worked at the sites. It has also been shown that there were asbestos leaks at missile silos in 1989 and other asbestos issues labeled as “priority” since 1992. Some bases found concentrations of asbestos to be 50 times higher than Environmental Protection Agency standards. One incident happened where polychlorinated biphenyls were leaked, leading to personnel experiencing headaches and nausea. These chemicals are man made and were once used in consumer and industrial products but are now banned in the U.S.

The Air Force is trying to get an official count of service members that worked with missiles and now have cancer. This data is expected to be released in 2024. It was reported in 2023 by the Associated Press that at least 9 current or former nuclear missile officers or missileers were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The Air Force is planning on studying the entire missile community, not just nuclear site personnel. It is performing thousands of air, water, soil, and surface tests at the three nuclear missile bases including F.E. Warren Air Force base in Wyoming, Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Early results show that there were unsafe levels of PCBs in four underground launch control capsule locations where missileers work. The air, water, and soil samples from bases in Montana and Wyoming have not detected levels of contamination that would be considered harmful. Missile Launch Operators also could have been exposed to contaminants like asbestos. This could have occurred as early as the 1960s. The North Dakota missile base is still under investigation.

The goal of the Air Force is to obtain data on all missile service members who served between 1976 and 2010. It will be expanding its review of medical records hoping to find as many service members as possible. Digital medical records have been used since 2001, but the Department of Defense plans on going further back to 1976. It will be looking at data from the Department of Veterans Affairs and state cancer registries.

Nicholas Slayton, “Asbestos, cancer-linked toxins reported in Air Force nuclear bases for years” Task and Purpose (December 31, 2023). [Link]
Tara Copp, “Air Force expanding review of cancers for service members who worked with nuclear missiles” Associated Press (December 4, 2023). [Link]
Tara Copp, “The Air Force said its nuclear missile capsules were safe. But toxic dangers lurked, documents show” Associated Press (December 29, 2023). [Link]
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