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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 3, 2006

Wheeler hangars shut over hazardous find

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Three hangars at Wheeler Army Airfield have been closed with the discovery of cadmium and chromium, both of which can be health hazards.

The Army said in a release that it closed the hangars on Tuesday after the toxic metals were found during a routine environmental inspection.

The extent of the hazardous materials' presence was not revealed. The hangars are safe to enter for individuals in protective clothing, but will remain closed pending a thorough cleanup, the Army said.

"The health and safety of our people is our primary concern," said Maj. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division. "We are taking the extra time to thoroughly clean these facilities because it is the most responsible, most moral thing to do. People are our most valuable resource, and we are committed to protecting them."

A 2000 publication by the U.S. Army School of Aviation Medicine warns that "hazardous exposures are all around the flightline." It notes that chromium is used in paint and plating.

Exposure to cadmium, used in batteries and electroplating, can damage kidneys, lungs, the liver and bones, and there may be a danger of lung and prostate cancer, the publication states.

A Defense Department mechanic who works on CH-47 Chinook helicopters wrote in Aircraft Maintenance Technology that cadmium is electroplated to almost all steel hardware used in aviation to control corrosion.

Hexavalent chromium is considered a potential lung cancer carcinogen, and repeated or prolonged exposure can damage nasal passages and result in ulcers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The Army said chromium is used in commercial products like paint, pigments and tanning leather, and that most individuals are exposed to some degree of cadmium and chromium on a daily basis with no ill effect.

There can be health problems after ingesting or inhaling low quantities of the elements over long periods of time, or large quantities over a short period of time, it said.

The Army did not provide any information as to whether any individuals are being tested for exposure, what the hangars are used for, what needs to be done for cleanup or how long it will take.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.