Cancer Claims the Life of the “Ultimate American Airman”
Contributed by Debbie Gregory
New Hampshire Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen hope that the Environmental Protection Agency will “understand and address the PFAS contamination problem facing the nation,” especially the perfluorooctanesulfonic acid contamination around the Pease International Tradeport, which was once Pease Air Force Base.
For years, military officials allowed first responders on the base to use firefighting foam that was laced with high amounts of this chemical. The chemicals leaked into the groundwater, and are thought to be responsible for the high incidences of cancer in the area.
“Ultimate American Airman” David Eaton, as his wife Nancy called him, loved his time in the National Guard. Eaton retired in June 2009 after more than 40 years of service, and died of pancreatic cancer just three years later.
Like a growing number of people who served or whose family members served at the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease, Nancy Eaton believes her husband’s exposure to contaminated water at the Guard base and other dangerous chemicals could have contributed to his cancer.
Kendall Brock, a 35-year member of the Guard who worked with David Eaton, died in June 2017 from bladder and prostate cancer. His widow, Doris, said that she believes the chemical exposure and tainted groundwater are to blame.
“I truly believe that that is the cause of not only his, but certainly several other people that I’m very close to who have died of cancers,” Brock said.
She also said among her circle of friends at the base, 62 people have been diagnosed with cancer. “And 39 of those 62 are dead,” she said. “I think that’s just crazy.”
Gary Enos served with the National Guard at Pease for 30 years, retiring in October 2013. Like David Eaton, Enos loved his time in the Air Force. And like Eaton, Enos has been diagnosed with cancer. Enos’s work in aircraft maintenance exposed him to engine oils, carbon remover, paint strippers, jet fuel, and many other chemicals.
Enos, who lives in Gorham, Maine, has been diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer. He too believes there’s an unusually high number of Guardsmen at Pease who have been diagnosed with cancer, and that their exposure, as well as his exposure to the water and the chemicals at Pease, could have caused the cancers
“My whole career I’ve been watching my friends and colleagues die around me,” he said in an interview this week. “When you work with people for 30 years, it becomes a super tight-knit organization. Right from early on in my career, friends and colleagues have been dying of cancer.”