HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A woman filed a federal lawsuit seeking compensation for damages related to the cancer death of her husband, who was exposed to carcinogenic chemicals for 15 years while blasting paint off military aircraft at Hill Air Force Base.
In a case filed Monday in U.S. District Court at Salt Lake City, Cynthia McKenney Craft alleges she suffered financial damages and emotional distress due to Richard McKenney’s death on Aug. 9, 2017.
Health insurance paid for almost all of McKenney’s medical care. Also, the federal Office of Workers’ Compensation Program in May 2018 approved Craft’s claim for survivor benefits, finding McKenney’s death “was a direct result of his on-the-job exposure to hazardous chemicals,” the suit said.
But in July 2019, the Air Force denied Craft’s subsequent claim for compensation for emotional distress and for the financial hardship caused by the cleansing of her home and vehicle from years of chemical residue left over from her husband’s employment.
McKenney’s clothing was contaminated by substances that over the years accumulated in the couple’s home, according to the suit.
Craft “spent most of the life insurance to replace the carpets, floors, beds, linens, clothing in their shared closet, and many other things, like cleaning the duct work in the house,” the suit said.
The suit names the Department of the Air Force as the defendant.
In August 2018, attorneys for Craft filed suit in 2nd District Court, accusing General Dynamics Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. of liability for McKenney’s death.
Planes manufactured by the companies include the F-16, F-22, C-130 and F-35, which have been based or maintained at Hill.
However, a state judge later dismissed that suit.
Craft’s attorneys said McKenney was diagnosed with cancer of the kidneys, lungs and adrenal glands.
“The coatings on the aircraft included cadmium and chromium-6 and other potentially hazardous metals and substances,” the first suit said, and one of the paint-stripping agents used contained cadmium.
The substances are known carcinogens, the suit said. McKenney worked in the “bead blast” shop beginning in 1999.
McKenney had few risk factors associated with cancer, the suit said — he did not smoke, drink or use illicit drugs.
Two co-workers in the same shop also died of cancer, the suit said.
Hill Air Force Base did not comment about the litigation but provided information about improvements the Air Force has made in handling of aircraft chemicals.
In a Feb. 6, 2018, document, the Air Force said it completed a seven-year research and development program to enable “the safer and more efficient removal of paint from F-16 aircraft.”
It involves a laser-equipped robotic arm that vaporizes paint layer by layer, and paint waste and chemicals are vacuumed into the tool.
The automated process “removes the direct human element, both in terms of error and exposure,” the document said. “Instead, operators guide the effort from a computer console in a nearby control room.”
The longstanding manual procedures “are time-consuming and create a large amount of potentially hazardous waste material,” the document said, adding that the Air Force began using the new process on F-16s at Hill.
A March 2016 Air Force document addressed the problem of chromium, one of the substances blamed in the McKenney lawsuit.
“Non-chromium coatings and materials are increasingly important to the Air Force because of the harmful nature of chromate-based products,” the document said.