"The records-only study will be conducted with assistance from the Air National Guard surgeon general," according to a press release issued by guard officials Saturday. "It will examine the personnel records of all service members assigned to Pease between January 1970 and December 2018 to determine if there is a higher incidence of cancer for those who were assigned at Pease Air Force Base or Pease ANGB during that time frame."
The study will be conducted by the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine's Epidemiology Consult Service with assistance from the Air National Guard surgeon general.
The study comes in response to concerns raised by Doris Brock and a group of other widows of men who served at the guard base and the former Pease Air Force base. They believe guardsmen who worked at the base have suffered an unusually high number of cancers and other health ailments.
Those cancers and other health concerns were caused by exposure to dangerous PFAS chemicals in drinking water and other known carcinogens they were exposed to, Brock and the other widows believe.
Col. John Pogorek, commander of the 157th Air Refueling Wing, called the study "a defining step toward addressing the health concerns of the men and women who have worked on Pease Air Force Base and Pease Air National Guard Base."
"I want to thank our state and federal partners, Department of Defense, and our congressional delegation who continue to work on behalf of the welfare of our airmen, retirees, and their families," he said.
Guard officials will hold an informational session about the study at the Loy Auditorium, building 264, on the base. The session will begin at 3 p.m. Jan. 29.
The event is open to valid military ID card holders, including members of the New Hampshire National Guard, military dependents and retirees, and media.
The Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing, located in Dayton, Ohio.
The Air Force Personnel Center, the Defense Manpower Data Center and the New Hampshire National Guard will provide records needed to conduct the study.
Brock, the widow of Kendall Brock, a 35-year Air National Guard member who died in June 2017 from bladder and prostate cancer, said she was "excited" to hear the news about the study.
"I'm glad, too, that they're looking at the years that we asked them to look at," Brock said Saturday about the 1970 to 2018 range of the health study.
"I'm hoping that what will come out of this is that the study will prove that there are a significant number of incidents of cancer and other illnesses and help try to figure out what caused them," she said. "I also hope it will take us a step closer to having a presumptive disease declaration from the VA (Veterans Affairs) for people who served at Pease."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and the state's congressional delegation have pushed for the Air Force to study the health impacts of chemical and other exposures airmen may have been exposed to at the base.
"Our service members, veterans and their families deserve answers about the health implications of their exposure to potentially harmful chemicals and carcinogens," Shaheen said Saturday. "I'm pleased that the Air Force has finally reached an agreement with the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease so that this study can get underway. I've repeatedly raised this with the Air Force -- first with former Secretary Wilson and more recently with Secretary Barrett -- so I'm glad to see this effort move forward. I'm thankful for the tireless work of Doris Brock and other advocates fighting for answers on behalf of their loved ones."
Shaheen drafted legislation in 2017 that led to the first-ever national health study on the effects of people exposed to PFAS chemicals in drinking water.
The Pease community is now serving as the location of the pilot study for the national health study.
Thousands of people working at Pease International Tradeport, along with children and infants who attended two day cares there, were exposed to multiple PFAS chemicals from contaminated water in the city-owned Haven well until its closure in 2014.
Air Force officials believe the water was contaminated by firefighting foam used at the base.
PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been used in products worldwide since the 1950s, including firefighting foam, non-stick cookware and water-repellent fabrics and carpet.
In addition to being a suspected carcinogen, the Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states PFAS exposure can harm childhood development, increase cholesterol levels, hurt the immune system and interfere with the human body's hormones.
Retired airmen who served at both the former Pease Air Force Base and the guard base say family members who lived at the base suffered what they believe are an unusually high number of birth defects and still born-babies.
Mindi Messmer, a scientist and former state representative from Rye, has pushed the Air Force to study the cancers and other illnesses at Pease. She called the news about the study "a great step in the right direction to respond to the concerns of people who served their country."
"Hopefully this will help assess whether their time serving their country resulted in health concerns that should be addressed by the VA," Messmer said Saturday.
She also thanked "our federal representatives for their support and interest in the issue and the Air Force and Air National Guard for their work on this really important issue."
She hopes the study will provide answers to airmen but also to "their family members who lived on base."
She credited Brock and the other widows who fought to get their concerns addressed.
"It's unfortunate that a group of women who experienced the deaths of their loved ones had to bring this to our attention, but I'm glad they did, and that they didn't give up until they got answers," Messmer said.
State Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, called the news about the occupational health study a "critical component that has been missing to date."
"I think it's wonderful news for those people who have been exposed and their families and it's wonderful news for us as physicians and scientists trying to understand what their exposures led to," Sherman said Saturday.
He added that he would like the Air Force to include firefighters who worked at the former Air Force base or guard base to study their exposure as well.
He called the study "a good first step" but believes the Air Force should study the airmen after their time serving on the base.
"A latency period is the time it takes for that exposure to turn into an actual disease, it's not like the disease happens immediately, there's a latency period before it manifests itself," Sherman said. "If they don't attempt to look at what happened to them since they left, they may miss an incredibly important part of the study."
This article is written by Jeff McMenemy from Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover, N.H. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.