F-111 Deseal / Reseal Program McClellan AFB, Sacramento,
by Albert Durden
My name is Albert Durden. I worked at McClellan AFB as a civilian aircraft mechanic from 1966-1978. I was hired as a flight line mechanic apprentice and went through 3 1/2 years of class room instruction and on the job training. I graduated at the top of my class. My brother was hired as an electronics technician apprentice. We worked together on the F-106 Flight line in the early years. He went on to become a top level F-111 Support Manager and retired after over 20 years but passed away in 1994 from lung cancer. I worked on the F-106 Delta Dart for 10 years and became a top notch Crew Chief, dedicated, loved my job, earned my nickname as "Dirty Durden, received an outstanding performance award and many letters of appreciation for a job well done. The F-106 was America's First line of defense from 1958-1986. See www.f-106deltadart.com.
I did not have any known medical problems at this time. I did notice dizziness when I used Naphtha to wash down hydraulic leaks and to clean the engine
compartment and I had a lot of headaches. In Dec. of 1975, I was affected by a reduction in force, downgraded and transferred to a job cleaning and resealing F-111 fuel tanks. It was a big project for McClellan because we had to reseal every F-111 in the US Air Force Inventory due to the premature failure of the factory sealant that resulted in fuel leaks. I was assigned to the F-111 Deseal / Reseal Program from 1976 until I retired on a disability in 1978, not knowing at the time that my medical conditions were actually caused by the job exposures.
I worked in a large hanger that held up to 14, F-111 aircraft with all fuel tanks open and being cleaned and resealed at the same time. We were told that we
only needed to wear our breathing masks when we were using solvent for the final cleaning operation. We did not use the masks for the initial cleaning operation when we scraped the goop from the cracks and seams with aluminum tools. This procedure failed to account for workers using solvent in other tanks allowing the fumes to be blown to tanks where unaware workers were scraping goop and not wearing masks. The ventilation was inadequate and improper. We used portable blowers to blow air into each tank which blew the solvent fumes out into the hanger. With all fuel tanks of 14 aircraft being cleaned and resealed at the same time,
everyone in the hanger was exposed to the fumes even if they did not work in the fuel tanks. The Proper ventilation would have exhausted the fumes outside and
brought in fresh air at the same time. I was OK at first but then I started developing symptoms of headaches, dizziness, nausea and loss of balance. I continued working until I was only able to stay in the tanks for 10 minutes and had to climb out, get a drink of water, splash water on my face, go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet until I recovered enough to go back in the tanks and repeat the cycle. My symptoms worsened and became constant so I reported to the base medical clinic. A doctor placed me on restricted duty but I remained in the same work area exposed to the same solvent fumes and had the same symptoms. I consulted many doctors on my own, from an allergist to a psychiatrist but no doctor at the time could explain the cause of my symptoms. A doctor disqualified me for the job citing dizziness caused by a non specific allergic diathesis in 1977. I also had a hearing loss. I applied for disability retirement and worked in a different area sorting bolts and nuts until my retirement was approved in May of 1978. From Ace Crew Chief to nut sorter in less than 2 years. What a monumental waste of my former skill. My wife complained many times about the foul stinking odor coming from my clothes and my lungs when I breathed on her. Sometimes I had momentary black outs driving home from work.
We moved to Cool, California, USA in 1978 to get away from the industrial exposures in the Sacramento Valley that made me sick. In December of 1977, I suffered a compound depressed skull fracture at home when a loading ramp fell on my head because I forget that I had placed it on the back of my old farm tractor. I was lucky to survive this accident and I still have a hole in my skull from the injury. My wife was forced to work for 12 years because my retirement was not enough to live on and I was unable to work.
We did OK until the government had my disability case reevaluated in 1983 by a doctor who tested me for allergies to grass and weeds , dozed off during my
consultation while I was explaining my symptoms and job history and then erroneously found me recovered from my chemical related conditions due to his ignorance. My retirement benefits were terminated and I spent the next 8 years fighting the decision. I appealed my case all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1985 but the Court denied to review my case. The government then asked me to pay back $20,000.00 in retirement that I had received while I was appealing my
case. I was unable to pay back the money and it was later waived.
I saw many more doctors and learned that my medical conditions were actually caused by the exposures to solvents at McClellan AFB so I started over and filed
a claim for worker's compensation and submitted reports from 4 doctors. The Chief of Maintenance at McClellan AFB told the office of workers compensation that as an aircraft mechanic, I did not come in contact with jet fuel. I replied by telling him to remove his head from his ass and read my job description and he would learn that it was a daily part of my job as a flight line mechanic. My claim was denied at first and I consulted 2 more doctors as part of my request for
reconsideration. My claim was finally granted in 1991 based on toxic exposures at McClellan AFB. My compensation is based on Toxic Encephalopathy and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. My other conditions include sterility , a hearing loss in my left ear, and skin cancer. We lived on our savings and were down to our last $500.00. Our property taxes were due on April 10 and we did not have enough money to pay it. My claim was granted on April 4.
We don't have any children due to me being sterilized by the jet fuel that
someone said that I did not come in contact with. My brother has three children.
chemical sensitivity seems to get worse with age. I am unable to tolerate any fragrances, perfume, after shave, solvents, inks, paint, gas fumes, smoke, household cleaners, new carpet, furniture and electronics including computers. The smell from my first computer made me so sick that I could not learn to use it. The Toxic Encephalopathy shows up when I try to solve problems. It takes me 10 times as long to think out a problem and I get tired from thinking before I solve the problem,
I get angry, aggravated and loose my temper. Today my brain works like a slow computer on slow dial up service. I eventually get there but it takes a long
time. Tests showed that I lost some of my I.Q. due to the solvent exposure. On the flight line before I was exposed to the fuel tank solvents, my brain worked like the fastest computer on the fastest service. I could not perform that job today because you must be fast thinking and fast acting to stay alive. I am house bound much of the time due to smoke and air pollution outside and I must avoid public places whenever possible. I wear a charcoal filter mask when I must travel to the
doctor or dentist. I will be in a documentary film about chemical sensitivity currently under production titled The Tomato Effect. You may view the film site at
www.rabble-rouser.com. The producer is the daughter of my doctor who helped me fight my case for 8 years. He died in a suspicious hiking accident in 1992. I consider myself fortunate because some workers have worse medical conditions than I do. My best advice is to never give up. You will eventually win because truth and justice is on your side. I know from experience that it is very hard to fight when you are sick and tired and tired of being sick. At times I was depressed but the more I learned, the more it turned to anger and sometimes the anger is all that kept me going. The actions or failure to act by people in charge of the Deseal / Reseal
Programs here and there borders on criminal behavior and the attitude that the job comes first before the welfare of the workers must not be tolerated. I did not know that the solvents were so toxic but it was someone's job to know and they failed to protect the workers from the hazardous working conditions because the job came first.
In 1982, I learned that the drinking water wells at McClellan AFB were contaminated with pesticides and solvents. The same water that I drank for 12 years and
splashed on my face to feel better when I worked in the fuel tanks. One well contained 1500 PPB Trichloroethylene TCE. The California State limit for TCE in well water is 5 PPB. McClellan has been pumping the water out of the ground and filtering it at the rate of 1200 gallons per minute. Most of the contamination is expected to be cleaned up in another 10 years, but it will take another 100 years to clean it all up. This was from a local news report.
We all paid a big price due to the negligence of others. If I had performed
my job as a Crew Chief in this negligent manner, planes would have crashed and
would have died and I would have suffered the consequences of my actions. Instead, we all must suffer the consequences of someone else's actions.
Take Care and keep fighting.
Albert D. "Dirty" Durden
Retired F-106 Crew Chief
F-111 Deseal / Reseal Victim