Air Force cancels health study meeting for former residents of Pease Air Force Base

A view of the main gate at Pease Air Force Base, N.H., on Oct. 18, 1987.


By JEFF MCMENEMY | Portsmouth Herald | Published: September 9, 2019

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — The Air Force has canceled a planned Sept. 26 meeting, which had been scheduled to talk about a health study for current and retired members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease.

Doris Brock, one of the leaders of the Pease Health Working Group, said they got the word from the Air Force during a conference call last week.

The Air Force has not yet rescheduled the meeting on what is now being called the 157th Air Refueling Wing health study.

She acknowledged she was "frustrated" by the Air Force's decision but hopes the meeting will be held in late October and the health study will move forward soon.

"We're just waiting for the meeting to be scheduled," Brock said Monday.

Brock is the widow of Kendall Brock, a 35-year member of the Air National Guard who died in June 2017 from bladder and prostate cancer.

She is one of a group of widows who believe guardsmen who worked at the base have suffered an unusually high number of cancers and other health ailments.

Brock has worked with the widows and guardsmen to push the Air Force to conduct a health study into the cancers.

She believes her husband's exposure to 12 different chemicals on the base known to be carcinogens — along with drinking contaminated water at the former air base — caused his cancer.

The Pease Health Working Group has identified a list of 35 to 40 chemicals that people were exposed to while working at the base, Brock said, and about 85 percent of those are suspected carcinogens.

Former state Rep. Mindi Messmer, a scientist, is part of the work group. She stated it is "unfortunate" the Air Force decided to cancel the September meeting.

Messmer believes the Air Force should study not only the chemical exposures the guardsmen endured, but also their exposure "to nuclear materials."

"I've asked them to put it on the list but so far they've refused to do that," Messmer said in a recent interview.

During a listening session held at the guard base in December 2018, Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Egan said he served at Pease Air Force Base from 1979 to 1983 as a shift commander.

Egan had 90 men working on his shift, and of those "17 of them had stillborns, miscarriages" or other health ailments, he said.

Egan also served as a senior nuclear weapons convoy commander at Pease, and stated they were "around the nukes all the time."

Shortly before Egan was transferred off base he heard "that the SRAMs (short-range attack missiles) were having problems," he said.

The nuclear missiles' primary mission was to destroy surface-to-air missile defenses in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

"The SRAMs were having problems. I was doing switchouts all hours of the day and night because they were having difficulties with them," the retired lieutenant colonel said.

Guardsmen and their families were also exposed to PFAS in their drinking water.

PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, fabrics and carpets and some cosmetics. PFAS exposure can increase cancer risks, lower birth weights, harm liver, thyroid and pancreas functions and increase cholesterol levels, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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