MINOT AIR FORCE BASE A nearly million-dollar project to replace sewer lines, water storage tank insulation and other maintenance work in the capsule or the underground area of the launch control centers in the Minot Air Force Base missile field starts Monday.
"Basically there are three different parts to the project," said Tom Atkinson, chief of missile engineering with the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron at Minot Air Force Base.
"The project will replace sewer lines under the floor of the capsule," Atkinson said. "We replace a valve underneath there that is designed to close in times of emergency." The area underneath the floor will also be cleaned and painted.
Submitted Photo --
2nd Lt. Brian Oliver, front, and 1st Lt. Matthew Easlen, combat crew members with the 742nd Missile Squadron at Minot AFB, run checklists in the underground capsule of a launch control center in the Minot missile field.
The capsule is the area where the combat crew members are located underground in the 15 launch control centers in north-central and northwest North Dakota. Each capsule is the "nerve center" or control site for 10 of the 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in the Minot field.
Atkinson said a secondary part of the project is to remove insulation from a water storage tank and install new insulation. The contractor will also replace water lines that cool the equipment in the basement.
"We're doing the project mainly because the sewer lines over the years are starting to deteriorate with age. Our capsules are now starting to approach 50 years old so it's like any other project it's a sewer line and you have to replace it from time to time," Atkinson said.
"We're replacing the insulation because some of it's starting to fall off the tank, and then painting down underneath the capsule floor," he said. He said an existing paint does have some lead in it "so we want to encapsulate that paint paint over it and give it a fresh coat clean everything up."
"In a nutshell, that pretty well describes the project," he added.
The work will be done at all 15 missile alert facilities in the missile field and the total cost of the project is slightly under a million dollars, Atkinson said.
The project is expected to take about 15 months three weeks for the contractor to do the work and one week for the government to bring one capsule up and take another capsule down, he said.
First base for project
Currently, Minot AFB is the first base for this project, Atkinson said. He said he has provided the same drawings and specifications to both F.E. Warren AFB in Wyoming and Malmstrom AFB in Montana, and they're looking at doing the same work.
Atkinson said the Minot launch control center project was a joint effort between Minot AFB and Air Force Space Command.
"It started out as we ought to think of replacing this sewer valve because we can't find replacements, and from there it kind of grew to 'well, while we're here let's do this... let's clean underneath the floor.'"
He said headquarters space command had to approve all of the processes because the work will be done within a secured area.
"Any work that we do down here in effect can have an impact on the weapon system so we have to get their approval," Atkinson said.
He said it was one of those projects that grew within a little bit of time. "We've been working on it since 2007 and that's why Environmental (bioenvironmental engineers) has such a thick book," he said, indicating a very large book filled with papers beside the two bioenvironmental engineers at the interview.
T & C Drilling of Mandan is the contractor for the project in the Minot missile field.
The contractor already has started some initial work and now is tentatively scheduled to start all the other work on one capsule on Aug. 31, Atkinson said.
Health issues addressed
Any health issues that might be involved with the project are being addressed, the base officials said.
Atkinson said the water tank has been tested and it is a nonasbestos material. "On some of the piping not the insulation itself but the wrap on the outside of the insulation is asbestos-contained material," he said. He said civil engineering has already sent out its in-house asbestos abatement team to remove material that they know was going to be disturbed.
"The concern you always have is when you're doing construction if something is opened up and you didn't expect to find that, what do you do then?" Atkinson said.
He said the inspectors on the project are both state certified as asbestos inspectors. "They're trained to know what to do if you cut open insulation and find something you suspect is asbestos," he said. He said if anyone working on the project suspects asbestos, they should just stop the work "and we'll get our inhouse asbestos abatement team in."
"The other issue we dealt with was when you are painting in a confined space or anytime you are working with a sewer line underneath the capsule floor, you are going to have smells," he said.
"There's a concern, of course, when you open up a sewer line you're going to have sewer gases," he said. For this project, he said the contractor is required to install a large air duct air circulation fan which is going to pull air out of the capsule, and he is required to connect it to the exhaust pipe. What he is going to be doing is sucking air from down underneath the floor. The goal there is we are hoping we can minimize any odors and try to keep the air fresh. We are downstairs and in a tight space."
He said respirators have been written in the contract "mainly because we were not sure what kind of odors you would be dealing with or what kind of health risks. We put it in the contract so the contractor could wear them, the CE guys could wear them and we asked the missile wing folks if they would be interested in wearing them," Atkinson said. Personally, he said he thinks that after the first site they're are going to find out there is very limited health risk and those folks are not going to wear the respirator.
"We're not projecting any problems but in case to be cautious on the first site we're saying 'let's go ahead and wear respirators.' And if we have a situation, 'hey, we're ready, we're protected' and if we don't need them, we will be very comfortable in getting rid of them," Atkinson said.
Lt. Col. Bill Klug, commander of the 740th Missile Squadron, said they are very proactive in safety measures and keeping everyone safe is their No. 1 goal.
Health, risk hazard specialists
Maj. Joseph Silvers and 2nd Lt. Darin Oakes, bioenvironmental engineers with the 5th Medical Group at Minot AFB, have the job of making sure everyone involved in the project are protected from any hazards.
Oakes said they have been working on this particular project for a long time since 2007. "It's really how are we going to do this project, what are our concerns, what's the risks to people the people going down there," he said.
He said maybe no one will need to wear a respirator but they're going to do sampling to make sure that's the case. "So you are required to wear a respirator that's going to protect against all the potential hazards until we can say otherwise," he said.
"Maybe you don't need gloves, a whole body suit whatever it is. But if we recommend it, you're going to have to wear it because that's what we're responsible for," he said.
He said they're responsible for making sure people are protected against three major items: contact hazards, injection and inhalation.
"If there's anything which comes up with asbestos concerns, we'll be there to address that, Silvers added.
"In some cases, we'll rely on the inspectors who are trained by the state to evaluate the risks, in other cases we may have to collect samples and we send those samples to a third-party lab, in this case it would be the state Lab in Bismarck." He said this ensures the results are unbiased.
When those results are returned to them, he said they interpret them and determine if indeed there is a hazard.
"We compare the analysis results from the lab against established criteria that OSHA or EPA has set for worker environmental health," Silvers said.
OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the government agency which monitors workplace safety, and EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency, a government agency concerned with environment and its impact on human health.
"If there's an issue or concern, then it's our responsibility to identify what worker practices need to occur protective equipment that they wear, work time that they're in there, maybe we increase the ventilation. We have lots of options. One option is to stop work if there's a health hazard and we don't understand it well enough, we'll stop the process until a commander can make a decision that we need to move forward or until we thoroughly investigate the issues and have made a decision," he said.
Klug said the key words are "anybody can stop this and that's absolutely true. Anybody involved in this process from the contractor to the civil engineering.... my team that's down there any person that's down there can say 'stop' if they feel there's something going on down there that they don't understand. They've been trained to stop all activities, get an assessment, call in the experts and we'll proceed from there," Klug said.
Capt. Ashley Klincar, flight commander and crew commander with the 740th Missile Squadron, will be downstairs to observe and watch what the contractors are doing and that they are following what was agreed upon. If she feels something isn't right, she said she can question it and make the call to Environmental if necessary.
Oakes said, "I would say that we do this at 200 facilities on our installation either every year or every two years. We're the resident experts when it comes to evaluating if there's a health hazard or health risk."
Silvers added, "This is not a one-time project, this is one of many ongoing surveillance efforts that we have so not to say this one isn't as important to any of the others but we do have the experience. It's not something we just started doing."
When the work is going on at a launch control center it will not impact any of the normal operations, Klug said. "There will always be another launch control center and another crew watching those additional missiles for safety and security," he said.
On Aug. 28, a town meeting was scheduled to be held for the crew members and their families to address any health concerns.
"Our goal is safety, Klug said.
"We want our crew to be safe, we want our equipment to be safe and we want our sustainment and operations to be as safe as we can," he added.