Is Cancer Linked to Nuclear Silo Work? Military Officers at Nuclear Missile Base at Greater Risk of Blood Cancer

An investigation has been initiated after concerns were raised about the possible association of cancer related to missile combat crew members at Malmstrom AFB.

US Space Force Lt. Col. Daniel Sebeck, in a January briefing, said the disproportionate number of missileers presenting with cancer, specifically lymphoma was concerning. The missileers were assigned as many as 25-years ago to Malmstrom Air Force Base - home to a vast field of 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile silos.

He highlighted in the presentation that nine military officers, who had worked decades ago at a nuclear missile base in Montana have been diagnosed with blood cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphoma). Sebeck believes there are indications the disease may be linked to their service.

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Worked Deep Underground

The missileers ride caged elevators deep underground into small operations bunker, which was encased in a thick wall of concrete and steel. Sebeck pointed out that the officers remain there for days, ready to turn the launch keys if ordered to by the president. But he said his slides or presentation was predecisional. The high-ranking officer said this issue is important to Space Force because as many as 455 former missileers are now serving as Space Force officers, including four of the nine identified in the slides having cancer.

"Missileers have always been concerned about known hazards, such as exposure to chemicals, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, lead and other hazardous material in the work environment. All missileers should be screened and tracked for the rest of their lives."

Ann Stefanek, Air Force spokeswoman, said the information in the briefing has been shared with the Department of the Air Force surgeon general and the medical professionals are working to gather data and understand more. "We are heartbroken for all who have lost loved ones or are currently facing cancer of any kind."

US Government Recognizes Hazards

This data and new information comes as the US government has shown more openness to acknowledging the environmental hazards, or toxic exposures, their troops might face while serving.

But this is not the first time the military has been informed about multiple cancer cases at Malmstrom. The Air Force Institute for Operational Health, in 2001, investigated the base after 14 cancers of various types were reported among missileers who had served there. This included two cases of the non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The probe established that the base was environmentally safe and that sometimes illnesses tend to occur by chance alone. It said the list of those diagnosed had been collected because it perpetuates the level of concern.

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According to the American Cancer Society, non-Hodgkin lymphoma affects around 19 out of every 100,000 people in the United States annually. It is a blood cancer that uses the body's infection-fighting lymph system to spread. The National Institutes of Health says the median age of adult non-Hodgkin lymphoma is 67. But the former missileers who have been affected are younger. The officer who died of cancer was a Space Force officer assigned to Schreiver Space Force Base in Colorado. He had the rank of a major, which is typically achieved in a service member in their 30s.

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