Cancer-linked chemical found inside Kansas aircraft hangar

WICHITA, Kan. — More than 50 personnel at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas may have been exposed to dangerous levels of a compound linked to cancer that was found inside an aircraft hangar last year, according to internal memos.

Contamination by hexavalent chrominium, the subject of the case featured in the movie "Eric Brockovich”, was documented in multiple base memos from October 2019 to January 2020, McClatchy reported. The chemical can be used as an anti-corrosion agent and “is found in paints and primers used on the KC-135 and to a lesser extent the KC-46.”

A November test found that an airman had been exposed to levels almost six times higher than the permissible exposure limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It warns that exposure to hexavalent chromium can cause respiratory diseases, kidney, liver or abdominal damage and various cancers, the Wichita Eagle reported.

One memo noted exhaust filers and protective gear should have limited contamination and the risk of exposure to the area used for painting. It determined that dust contamination is present on most surfaces in hanger 1124 North and presents a contact hazard to unprotected workers. It also noted detection of the chemical in the break room and on the floor near the supervisor's desk, according to an October memo.

A notice was issued in October to personnel warning of the hangar contamination and underlined “NO FOOD OR DRINK are authorized in the North Bay of Hangar 1124.”

The base encouraged any personnel who believe they were exposed to the chemical to report it.

McConnell said in a statement that it is aware of the exposure hazard and has taken steps to protect personnel. It said only mission essential personnel trained to work with hexavalent chromium have access to the hangar.

"The hangar also is limited to a single entry control point with specified decontamination zones and rigorous cleaning procedure, and exposure-level testing is conducted regularly,” according to the base statement.

But McClatchy reported that a January email from a base bioenvironmental engineer to a chief medical officer indicates contamination may have spread and could impact operations.

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