Air Force Nuclear Missile Capsules Become Subject of Controversy

( – After years of working in unsafe conditions in underground nuclear missile capsules and silos for the Air Force, many service members who were part of the crew are now being diagnosed with cancer.

Some of the unsafe conditions and toxic risks of the capsules and silos include chemical spills, lack of fresh air, overheating computer equipment leaking chemicals, and asbestos readings more than 50 times higher than the safety standards imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When the first reports of service members having cancer began to emerge, the Air Force claimed their investigation found that their workplaces were “free of health hazards” in a report published on Dec. 30, 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In a follow-up investigation in 2005, the Air Force said that illnesses “tend to occur by chance alone” sometimes.

However, documents obtained by reporters using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and going back to the 1980s told a different story.

The Associated Press reported on the documents in January 2023, which revealed that several former and current missileers had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, which may be connected to their years of service decades prior. One of the nine missileers has since died. After the report detailing the cases, hundreds of other nuclear missile officers came forward and claimed they had also been diagnosed with cancer.

In response to the story, the Air Force has launched a new investigation, its most sweeping to date, conducting tests on thousands of samples from surfaces, water, soil, and air in every facility where the sick service members used to work. Four of the samples returned showed dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyl, a substance used in electrical wiring and a known carcinogen. According to Air Force representatives, the current review will not be able to provide complete answers on what workers in the past may have been exposed to, but the data collected will help form a more accurate health profile that will assist with applying for veterans’ benefits.

Despite what the Air Force states, the documents obtained by The Associated Press showed there were plenty of warning signs recorded about the past conditions and risks of the facilities to prove a connection to the current diagnoses. The documents raise questions about how transparent the military organization has been and will be going forward.

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