An investigation into a high number of cancers at a Montana nuclear missile base has led to the discovery of unsafe levels of a likely carcinogen.
The hundreds of cancer cases appear to be connected to underground launch control centers at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
Levels of PCBs, an oily or waxy substance that is considered a likely carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), were higher than the agency’s recommended threshold.
The finding “is the first from an extensive sampling of active U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile bases to address specific cancer concerns raised by missile community members,” Air Force Global Strike Command said Monday in a news release.
Gen. Thomas Bussiere, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, has directed “immediate measures to begin the cleanup process for the affected facilities and mitigate exposure by our airmen and Guardians to potentially hazardous conditions.”
At least nine current or former missileers at Malmstrom have been diagnosed with a rare blood cancer that uses the body’s lymph system to spread, according to a military briefing obtained by the Associated Press.
A grassroots group of former missile launch officers and their surviving family members, the Torchlight Initiative, has said there are at least 268 people who served at the nuclear missile sites or their family members who have been diagnosed with cancer, blood diseases or other illnesses over the past several decades.
Among them are at least 217 cancers, with 33 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
That’s a lot of cases considering only 21,000 missileers have served since the early 1960s. About a few hundred airmen serve as missileers each year at the three American silo-launched Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile bases, the AP reported.
About 403 new cancer cases per 100,000 people are reported each year in the United States in total, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only about 19 cases per 100,000 are non-Hodgkin lymphoma, according to the American Cancer Society.
As part of the investigation, 300 surface swipe samples were obtained at Malmstrom. Among them, 21 had detected PCBs, though 19 were below EPA-required levels, while two were above, the AP reported.
The investigation did not find any PCBs in 30 air samples at Malmstrom.
Results for the two other sites, F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming and Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, are not yet available. Water and soil sample results for all the bases are also not available yet, the AP said.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
SOURCE: Associated Press
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