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Air Force Global Strike Command reports initial PCB clean-up results

  • Published
  • By Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs
  • Air Force Global Strike Command

Initial efforts to clean polychlorinated biphenyls from launch facilities at Malmstrom AFB are ongoing but seeing success, Air Force Global Strike Command announced today.

The clean-up effort was ordered by AFGSC commander Gen. Thomas Bussiere after PCBs were detected on surfaces in launch facilities at all three of the command’s missile wings during a survey by the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine.

As part of the survey conducted in July, a total of 900 surface swipe samples were collected across all of the command’s Missile Alert Facilities and Launch Control Centers, focusing on common touch areas and places where known or suspected PCB-containing equipment was currently or historically installed. Of the 900 samples, 832 (92.5 percent) detected no PCBs, and 64 (7.1 percent) detected PCBs at negligible levels below mitigation standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. Four surface samples (0.44 percent) detected PCBs above the EPA’s mitigation standards, two each at Malmstrom and Minot AFBs.

Cleaning the PCBs is a difficult process that entails much more than a simple wipe-down, according to Col. Gregory Coleman, AFGSC Command Surgeon.

“PCBs are undetectable to human senses at the quantities we’re finding in these facilities,” Coleman said. “We know they’re present on what appear to be otherwise pristine surfaces due to the survey results, but the only way to know our cleaning process was a success is by retesting each surface and sending the samples away to the lab. Then we wait two weeks to see if the cleaning was a success.”

The cleaning teams also must be wary of spreading PCBs during the cleaning process, Col. Coleman said. Some cleaning methods risk dispersing the contaminants rather than removing them.

The successful cleaning came after bioenvironmental teams at Malmstrom AFB consulted with engineers and medical experts on the cleaning processes and agents most likely to effectively remove the chemicals in the unique environment presented by active launch facilities. After some experimentation, the team settled on a mineral oil wash followed by a solvent scrub, which successfully reduced PCB surface contaminants, in some cases to non-detectable levels.

“The cleaning at Malmstrom validates our process, and we’ll use the same technique at other facilities where PCBs were detected,” Coleman said. “In some locations where particularly high levels of PCBs were detected, it will probably take multiple rounds of cleaning to get below the EPA’s mitigation limits.”

According to Bussiere, the clean-up and mitigation will continue until he is confident that AFGSC Airmen have a safe and healthy work environment.

“These results are a positive step toward the clean and safe work environment our Airmen deserve,” Bussiere said. “We will continue with the cleaning and mitigation as more results come to us from the USAFSAM survey, and we will be open and transparent with those results and our efforts.”

In addition to PCBs, USAFSAM is sampling for a range of other potential contaminates, including radon and pesticides from agricultural runoff.

More information about PCBs:

More information about the Missile Community Cancer Study: