18 June 2011

Air Force Study of Contaminated C-123K Report Located!

Patches Tail 362 at Wright-Pat
Trolling through the Internet hoping to learn where I "caught" cancer I was able to locate a 2003 study by the Air Force Institute for Operational Health (Brooks) about toxic contamination of the aircraft stored in Davis-Monthan AFB's boneyard. The entire C-123K/UC-123K (aka Ponderous Polly, Bug Bird, Pork Hauler, Thunder Pig, etc.) collection is grouped behind a barbed wire fence and the aircraft are sealed and removed from public sight, as well as labeled "extremely hazardous" (note: all were destroyed April 2010). This report lends tremendous weight to the argument that post-Vietnam Provider crews were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins, and I strongly suggest bringing this study and the other materials we've located to the attention of your local Veterans Affairs representative!
The study can be downloaded at: http://airforcemedicine.afms.mil/idc/groups/public/documents/afms/ctb_021403.pdf.
In particular, I'd like to provide this paragraph dealing with "Patches" at the Air Force Museum, an aircraft many of us invested hundreds of hours flying, maintaining, training, sleeping, eating, etc:
 "a.  In 1994, AFIOH/RSRE (then AL/OEMH) evaluated a C-123 aircraft located in the museum annex at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (AL/OE-CL-1994-0203, 19 Dec 94).  Museum personnel planned to restore the aircraft and staff raised concerns prior to restoration since the aircraft reportedly carried and sprayed Agent Orange to support defoliation efforts in Vietnam.  Four samples were collected (3 inside, 1 under the wing); all four samples tested positive for dioxin congeners.  At the time, museum staff secured the aircraft to prevent entry.  The tanks and sprayers, stored at a separate location, were not sampled.  AL/OEMH staff made recommendations to limit exposure to aircraft restoration personnel and allow the public to view the exterior of the plane.  The recommendations would not result in the complete decontamination of the aircraft."

Tail 633 at Westover, 731TAS (now at Robins AFB)
Also interesting in the study is the mention (para 2 "Potential Issues") that even burying the aircraft would be unwise because the burial would still result in the aircraft being considered hazardous waste, possibly endangering the water table or causing other complications. So, they can't even bury the bird we flew to prevent the toxins from spreading...that is a pretty convincing argument that we've all been exposed to various toxins, including Agent Orange, during the years we flew the Provider! Looking over the bio of Patches at the Air Force Museum, it specifies that the aircraft was used for Agent Orange spray missions, so crews from '72-82 certainly continued to be exposed to various contaminants!
FACTOID: Did you know that Patches was only C-123 to fly completely around the world, doing so in 1962 as it responded to various spray missions, before being more permanently assigned to Vietnam during the war. It flew "silver" during its insecticide life because the chemicals fouled the paint.
FACTOID: The C-123K (Tail #679) which crashed in Honduras is now a fancy beachside restaurant, still with the 439th shield above the crew door!

But wait, folks...there's still more! In 1964 the Air Force conducted design and testing programs at Eglin AFB Florida to learn how to "properly" spray liquids from the C-123. Their testing revealed an important fact: The liquids spread by the A/A 45Y-2 Pressurized Defoliant Dispenser (and later versions) contaminated not only the "target" but also the surface of the airplane. In later years, with a greater understanding of the persistence of dioxin, the Air Force learned that painted surfaces of contaminated C-123K/UC-123K aircraft shouldn't even be scraped and cleaned or toxins would be further dispersed.

Okay...that makes sense. So why are museum C-123K or UC-123K aircraft still displayed allowing physical contact by the public? Why are the UC-123K (Tail #633, once a spray aircraft) at Robins AFB Museum of Aviation and the C-123K (Tail #612, possibly a spray aircraft) at March ARB California there for the public to touch...and become contaminated?

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