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Cancers at Pease Air Guard Base: Sen. Shaheen presses VA for further study

A crew chief marshalls in a KC-46A Pegasus on Aug. 8, 2019, at Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airmen Victoria Nelson)

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen sent a letter to the Secretary of Veteran Affairs seeking further study into the cancers at the 157th Air Refueling Wing at the Pease Air National Guard Base.

Shaheen in the letter to Secretary of Veteran Affairs Denis McDonough pointed to what family members of some who served at the base believe is the “unusually high rates of cancer and other illnesses among former members of the 157th and veterans who were stationed at the former Pease Air Force Base.”

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

Through the efforts of a number of Pease widows, leadership at the 157th agreed to try to determine how exposure to carcinogens at the base may have affected cancer rates there through a cancer mortality study conducted by the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.

The study concluded “the number of cancer deaths among U.S. Air Force service members who were stationed at Pease Air Force Base/Air National Guard Base over the past 50 years is nearly identical to the number of cancer deaths expected based on demographically matched U.S. population data.”

But the study, which was released in June, also stated that “deaths from certain cancers (i.e., lung, prostate and breast) were higher than expected.”

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

Pointing to the work that has already been done on the cancers at Pease “and the dedication of the 157th and community stakeholders to this cause,” the delegation told Veteran Affairs “Pease is an ideal site for the MERP (Military Exposure Research Program) to work with as it launches.”

MERP is aimed at studying health impacts of military occupational exposures to toxic chemicals.

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

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

“Our service members and families here in New Hampshire and across the country deserve answers on the health impacts of toxic exposures they encountered while serving our nation,” 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, credited the delegation with pushing for further study into the cancers.

“I’m really glad to hear about their support for our attempts to continue the study,” Messmer said Monday. “We know from the mortality study there were three cancers that rose to a significantly higher level than what was expected.”

“Further work needs to be done to study not just those who died, but 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 investigated “cancer deaths among U.S. Air Force service members stationed at Pease Air Force Base/Air National Guard Base … between 1970 and 2018.”

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

Thousands of people working at Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day care facilities there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well until its closure in 2014. The water was contaminated by firefighting foam used at the former base.

In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with human hormones, according to the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

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(c) 2021 Portsmouth Herald

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