George AFB’s Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing Decontamination Centers

In 2016, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Radiologic Health Branch investigated the radiological decontamination centers at George AFB. CDPH concluded that there were historical documents that demonstrate that aircraft were decontaminated at George AFB and the Air Force has NOT publicly acknowledged the radiological contamination or the cleanup of this pollution.

With the recent declassification and/or release of documents, through FOIA, by the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) we now know that there were several Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing Radiological Decontamination Centers at the former George Air Force Base (AFB), CA – EPA Superfund ID: CA2570024453.

When the Air Force suppressed information, withheld documents, and denied the existence of the George AFB’s Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing Decontamination & Decommissioning Centers, the Air Force lied:

  • To the public, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), Congress; local, state, and federal regulators;
  • To FOIA requestors;
  • On the CERCLA 120(h) deed restrictions;
  • To the recipients of the properties at George AFB.

These Radiological Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) centers generated an enormous amount of highly radioactive waste, including decommissioned clothing, equipment, aircraft, water, solvents, and soil. The Air Force has denied the existence of the D&D centers since 1985, which is when my VA doctors first suspected that I had received an accidental radiation exposure in 1973 while stationed at George AFB.

Aircraft Radiological Decontamination

The document (Operation Ranger – Decontamination Of Aircraft) describes the Air Force’s approved method for the radiological decontamination of aircrafts used during Operation Ranger. It also lists some of the highly radioactive waste that was generated during this process. It should be noted that it was not uncommon for aircrafts to require to be decontaminated, up to three times, before they were safe to use again.

While this document does NOT specifically mention the Radiological Decontamination Centers at George AFB, it does describe the radiological decontamination process, and the average amount of chemicals and radioactive waste that were generated.

“To accomplish these results, the average time required per aircraft was 127 minutes for decontamination and 61 minutes for surveying, adding up to a total of 188 minutes. The average decontamination materials used per aircraft were 1200 – 1600 gallons of water, 12 – 16 lbs. of trisodium phosphate, 150-200 lbs. of ‘GUNK’ and 75 – 80 gallons of cleaning solvent.”

“Cleaning solvent” is defined as “(Compound, Cleaning, Formula 11C, Part No 7300-204500, Class 07).”

  • What “cleaning solvent(s)” were used at the George AFB’s Radiological Decontamination Centers? TCE, PCE, or … ?
  • Did the Air Force conduct an assessment and/or remediation of the contamination created by the Radiological Decontamination Centers?

If you open the document in Adobe Acrobat, the cited pages are bookmarked

Operation Ranger – Decontamination Of Aircraft
- Air Force – 2 Feb 1951 – (PDF – 4.04 MB)


When the Air Force personnel, civilian employees, contractors, and subcontractors conspired to conceal the true nature and extent of the contamination and the completed exposure pathways that existed at George AFB, they potentially:

  • Endangered the public;
  • Defrauded the injured Air Force personnel and family members of medical care and compensation for injuries caused by their exposure to hazardous substances and/or materials;
  • Defrauded recipients of the George AFB land parcels and/or their insurance companies;
  • Unnecessarily exposed the construction workers who demolished the old buildings to hazardous substances and/or materials;
  • Caused the demolition contractors to dispose of hazardous substances and/or materials improperly;
  • Unnecessarily exposed the construction workers who built the new buildings to hazardous substances and/or materials;
  • Unnecessarily exposed the occupants of the new buildings built on the contaminated property to hazardous substances and/or materials.

There are approximately a dozen documents published by the US Government, including the Air Force, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), and Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA), which mention the Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Test Decontamination Centers, for aircraft, crews, and equipment, at George AFB. However, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) Administrative Record for George AFB contains NO mention of an assessment or remediation of the radioactive waste that these decontamination centers would have caused.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests

FOIA Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA)

FOIA request to the Air Force Historical Research Agency – 14 Mar 2014

FOIA Response and bill AFHRA - History of the 479th Fighter Bomber Wing - 11 August 20014

Released record: History of the 479th Fighter Bomber Wing, 1 December 1952 – 30 June 1953, George AFB, CA – (PDF 32.1 MB)
Photographs Of Decontamination Centers start at page 282

FOIA Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

FOIA request to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency – 14 May 2014
FOIA response Defense Threat Reduction Agency – 1 Oct 2015 (PDF)

The AFHRA / DNA / DTRA Documents Released Under FOIA

Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA)
United States Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA)
Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC)

ATSDR’s Public Health Assessment (PHA) for George AFB

Since 1986, ATSDR has been required by law to conduct a public health assessment at each of the sites on the EPA National Priorities List. The aim of these evaluations is to find out if people were or are being exposed to hazardous substances and, if so, whether that exposure is harmful and should be stopped or reduced. Furthermore, before the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) will provide medical care and/or compensation for toxic injury, the ATSDR needs to establish a Completed Exposure Pathway (CEP) and a causal link to the contaminants that were released at the base. The mechanism that the ATSDR uses is the Public Health Assessment (PHA). See: ATSDR – Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

To complete the Public Health Assessment (PHA), the ATSDR relied on the Air Force to provide the relevant information and records. The Air Force failed to notify the ATSDR of the existence of:

  • George AFB’s Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing Decontamination Centers for aircraft, crews, and equipment
  • The large quantity of highly radioactive waste the decontamination centers would generate
  • Where this quantity of highly radioactive waste was disposed of including the decommissioned and radioactive aircraft, equipment, and clothing
  • The potential exposure pathways that this radioactive waste would create

The Air Force failed to provide any information or records about the Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Testing Decontamination Centers or the location of its radioactive waste. See: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/pha/PHA.asp?docid=24&pg=3#REFERENCES

Extracted Pages “Radiological Contamination” from the ATSDR PHA for George AFB

Compleate ATSDR - Public Health Assessment (PHA) for George AFB (PDF 3.36 MB)

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ATSDR, was established by Congress in 1980 under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund law. This law set up a fund to identify and clean up our country’s hazardous waste sites. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the individual states regulate the investigation and cleanup of the sites.

Fact Sheets: Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Test

Between 1945 and 1962, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) conducted 235 atmospheric nuclear weapon tests at sites in the United States and in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. In all, about 220,000 Department of Defense (DOD) participants, both military and civilian, were present at the tests. Of these, approximately 142,000 participated in the Pacific test series and approximately another 4,000 in the single Atlantic test series.

Reference: Nuclear Weapons

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Components
U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex

I am not a doctor or attorney, and cannot give medical advice or legal advice.

If you, a friend, or loved one has been injured or died as a result of the contamination at a DOD Superfund Site please follow the steps that are outlined at Get Help.

The views and opinions expressed in this website/articles are those of the authors and
do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government

2 Comments

  1. My dad (deceased) spoke of exposure to radiation somewhere on the flightlines and I believe in California. He was at George Air Force Base in the 1950s.If you have further information I would appreciate any data. Thank you – a daughter.

  2. I was stationed at George AFB from Sept. 1969 to Feb. 1971, as a Security Policeman. This information must have been classified, because it was never disseminated to anyone working or living on the base at that time. I’m sure anyone who was stationed there and their dependent families that lived on the base were contaminated with exposure to this radiation. The water we drank, and showered with was contaminated as well. No wonder the Air Force and Governmental agencies have kept this information secret. I’m sure many if not all who lived and worked at George AFB have medical issues related to this if they are still alive.

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