Stars and Stripes – NH lawmakers press VA for further study of cancers at Pease Air National Guard Base

A view of the main entrance to Pease Air Force Base, NH, on Oct. 18, 1987. (Dave Casey/US Air Force)

PORTSMOUTH, NH (Tribune News Service) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs requesting further research into the cancers at the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease Air National Guard Base.

In the letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, Shaheen pointed out what relatives of some who served on the base believe are “unusually high rates of cancer and other diseases among former members of the 157th and veterans stationed at the former Pease Air Force Base. ”

The letter was also signed by the rest of the state’s congressional delegation: Senator Maggie Hassan and Representatives Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster.

Through the efforts of some of Pease’s widows, the leadership of the 157th agreed to attempt to determine how exposure to carcinogens at the base affected cancer rates there through a cancer death study conducted by the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.

The study concluded that “the number of cancer deaths among members of the United States Air Force stationed at Pease Air Force Base/Air National Guard Base in the past 50 years is nearly identical to the number of cancer deaths expected based on demographically matched US population data.”

But the study, released in June, also stated that “the number of deaths from certain cancers (ie lung, prostate and breast) was higher than expected.”

“While the 157th and community members are grateful for the work of USAF SAM, they all agree that there were limitations to the study and that more research needed to be done,” said Shaheen and the delegation in the letter. “The 157th is currently working to identify next steps in their research and potential partners.”

Referring to the work already done on the cancers in Pease “and the dedication of the 157th and community stakeholders to this cause,” the delegation told Veteran Affairs “Pease is an ideal location for the MERP (Military Exposure Research Program) to work with when it is launched.”

MERP aims to study the health effects of military occupational exposure to toxic chemicals.

Doris Brock is the widow of Kendall Brock, who died of cancer in June 2017 after serving with the 157th Air Refueling Wing for 35 years.

She and other widows of Pease believe the cancers were caused by exposure to dangerous PFAS chemicals in drinking water and other known carcinogens that guards were routinely exposed to at the base.

“Our service workers and families here in New Hampshire and across the country deserve answers about the health effects of toxic exposure they have experienced while serving our country,” the delegation said in the letter. “We appreciate your commitment to our veterans and their families and your attention to the important topic of military occupational exposure.”

Scientist Mindi Messmer, a former state representative from Rye, praised the delegation for pushing for further research into the cancers.

“I am very pleased to hear of their support for our efforts to continue the study,” Messmer said Monday. “We know from the mortality study that there were three cancers that were significantly higher than expected.”

“More needs to be done to study not only those who died, but also those who suffered or continue to suffer from these cancers,” said Messmer, a member of the Pease Health Working Group.

The “records only” mortality study examined “cancer deaths among United States Air Force servicemen stationed at Pease Air Force Base / Air National Guard Base … between 1970 and 2018.”

More than 34,000 military personnel served at Pease for at least one day during the study period, and the study identified 6,183 deaths among Pease members, of which 1,956 or 31.6% were from cancer.

Thousands of people who worked at Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants attending two-day care facilities there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned port until its closure in 2014. extinguishing foam used on the former base.

According to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to PFAS can not only cause cancer, but can also impair children’s development, raise cholesterol levels, impair the immune system and disrupt human hormones.

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