Chanute: Pray That Former Base Finally Gets Cleaned Up

Note: Reprinted with permission from the author. Originally published in Rantoul Press on 03/21/2017.

Author: DOUG ROKKE

The United States Air Force, the U.S. Army and regional police and fire departments  conducted extensive nuclear, chemical and biological warfare, hazardous material incident response, explosive ordinance disposal training, emergency medical and emergency rescue training from before World War II until after Operation Desert Storm.

As a USAF and U.S. Army veteran and Army and civilian NBC-E, hazmat and EMT instructor, I helped develop and teach these courses.  Today all of our instructors and most of our military students are ill, and too many dead.  Medical care remains elusive.  Environmental remediation of the contamination left behind is inadequate. Consequently medical problems are one of life’s burdens. Chanute, actually all, veterans and community residents must face this eternal burden.

The USAF is beginning an onsite survey and remediation action of Chanute AFB World War II–Korean War era NBC site. Nobody knows if any NBC- e agents remain on the site, but if so they would be nerve, blood or blister agents and decontamination chemical compounds.

WW II NBC operational plans also called for use of radiological dirty bombs per 1943 Groves S1 memo. My conversation with Rantoul Police Department leaders, the PRO ambulance director, Thomasboro Police Department and UIUC Police Department leaders verify that they are not prepared to respond to any NBC-E or hazardous material release.

Rantoul Police Department leaders have refused to participate in validated U.S. Army-USAF NBC-E training. RPD leaders said they would provide perimeter security and rely on the USAF and outside agencies.

That is simply stupid! There is no outside agency that can respond within the time frame required for life-saving intervention upon any release. NBC-E medical protocols require administration of specific antidotes and thorough decontamination IAW FM 8-285 within minutes of exposures.

Clouds can travel miles within minutes, and it requires only micrograms of agent to result in death or serious injury. Neither Carle nor Provena hospitals have any NBC-E medical treatment capabilities. It has been years since any NBC-E CME has been completed, and the facilities are not designed for any reception and treatment of NBC-E casualties.

Detection equipment must be selected dispersed following specific weather and agent property guidelines. Very few individuals understand the actual placement and use of NBC-E detection equipment. When I drove by the site on Friday morning, USA Environmental had set up their command and control in a predominant downwind location and well within any circular hazard area if any release occurred.

There was no visual evidence of a decontamination station or contaminated casualty treatment set up. There is no plan for hundreds if not thousands of civilian NBC-E or hazmat casualties if any release takes place. Sheltering in place is not an effective option, and rapid evacuation within minutes as required is simply not possible.

My repeated attempts via a telephone call to obtain answers to my concerns from USAF’s Paul Carroll have just resulted at 2:45 p.m. on Friday March 17 with Mr. Carroll’s command to call USAF Public Affairs. They will not have any knowledge or ability to alter operations to ensure health and environmental safety. I have already called them many times with no success. As a member of the Chanute Restoration Advisory Board I find this unacceptable.

The most dangerous single event involving Chanute’s NBC-E programs took place during late 1980s when the telephone company dug up buried chemical weapons out on East Main in Urbana. Our UIPD super response team responded to collect and secure the weapons. We suspect more weapons are still buried out there just as we suspect additional weapons containers are buried on former Chanute AFB proper. The USAF needs to complete an onsite survey then remove and secure any additional chemical weapons.

Seventy-five years of military operations have also left a toxic hazardous materials soup within our environment. Besides pesticides the most toxic compound is TCE. TCE contamination on the Chanute AFB infects soil, structural materials, landfills and has contaminated the Wisconsonian aquifer.

Although some environmental remediation has been completed, previous and current TCE contamination has and will result in additional casualties. On March 14, 2017, The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs issued the ruling of presumption of service connection for exposure to TCE applies to anyone diagnosed with any of the following conditions: Adult leukemia, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease.

The VA also recognizes a long list of diagnosed medical problems caused by pesticides and Agent Orange exposures that have also affected Chanute veterans and civilians.

I am retired from the Army with a significant VA disability rating as a consequence of my own Chanute related and other military duties connected exposures. I pray that USAF, VA and DOD leaders will finally admit the mess and consequently ensure optimal medical care for all military veterans, their families and affected civilians.

I pray that they will finally clean up God’s environment on Chanute, within the United States and across the world.

Doug Rokke is a resident of rural Rantoul and a member of the Chanute Restoration Advisory Board.

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