Local

September 20, 2013

Bioenvironmental: keeping people safe

Airmen 1st Class Dakari Holder and Ernest Funue, 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental engineer technicians, use a hazardous material identification kit to test white powder found on a desk during a training session Sept. 5. When unknown substances are found, the bioenvironmental flight can take a portable reader with them to a site for an initial test of the substance.

 

An Airman begins to prepare an F-16 for a new paint job. Another works on maintaining the base radar. A spouse begins cooking a meal by bringing water to a boil, and a retiree sits in the clinic waiting to see the doctor.

All of these individuals have something in common: a helping unit on base.

“Our job is to make sure workers are safe,” said Master Sgt. Gabriel Canales, 56th AMDS BEE Flight NCO in-charge. “We anticipate, recognize, evaluate and control all hazards workers can be exposed to throughout the base.”

To accomplish this, the flight tries to identify dangers in areas such as environmental hazards, confined spaces, industrial hygiene, radiation environmental and emergency response. Some of these don’t just affect military members but everyone who comes on base.

“Some of the things we do are more visible than others,” said Tech. Sgt. Keith Sue, 56th AMDS environmental program NCO-in-charge. “The industrial hygiene portion controls and evaluates work centers around base. Then there’s the environmental hazard side where we deal with the drinking water quality for the base. We act like quality control for the 56th CES. They produce the water, they put it in the pipes and we make sure it’s drinkable. We also deal with any hazardous material or spills, and we have specialized equipment used to identify hazards.”

Using an isotropic electric field probe, Senior Airman Christopher Odom, 56th AMDS BEE technician, tests the electromagnetic frequency coming from the radar at the north end of the runway. The test helps determine the safe zone around equipment.

The flight’s equipment ensures hazards are identified and the proper protective equipment is worn. This plays a major role during emergency responses.

“The emergency response side of our job deals with incidents like the recent aircraft crash,” Canalas said. “We are out there and we recommend protective equipment to the on-scene commander. We make sure any hazards are identified. We also make sure workers are protected before they go to the crash.”

Another part of their job that affects many people on base is radiation environmental.

“Radiation environmental is similar to emergency response,” Canales said. “We have to go and monitor any radiation emitters on the base, like targeting pods or the radars for electromagnetic frequency, which can be harmful. RE also certifies lasers and all the dental or medical X-rays. We monitor X-rays to make sure there are no overexposures and the workers are doing their daily checks to make sure they’re safe.”

Radiation environmental is not just concerned with the proper use of the equipment but the safety of the people who are around it but don’t know of the dangers.

Prior to donning a radiation suit, Airman 1st Class Ernest Funue, 56th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental engineer technician, adjusts the straps on an oxygen mask to achieve a good seal. The suit is completely sealed requiring the use of portable oxygen.

“When we get involved with radiology, one thing we do is survey the spaces created in which to do X-rays,” Sue said. “We survey the room and surrounding areas to ensure the X-rays are being shielded. The shields are also needed to protect people walking outside the room so they aren’t accidently exposed to stray X-rays.

“That’s one of our concerns when we look at anything radiological — public exposure and keeping that as low as possible so we don’t have to worry about people getting sick 50 years down the road.”

Because some hazards don’t affect people immediately, the bio flight is required to keep records in a Defense Department database. The system tracks military members and what they could have been exposed to for up to 75 years.

“The tracking was born out of events like Agent Orange during the Vietnam War or the Gulf War syndrome,” Sue said. “These were caused by people being exposed to hazards and there was no one keeping records or tracking the hazards.”

The main concern for the bio flight is that people are safe.

“When all is said and done,” Canales said, “we want people to be able to perform their job and be safe while doing it.”
 

Staff Sgt. Emil Lee, 56th AMDS BEE technician, secures a hose and air filter to an Airman from the paint barn. The air filter will tell if the ventilation system within the painting room is working properly.

 
 

Staff Sgt. Michael Rivera, 56th AMDS BEE technician, tests an air sample for contaminants during training. Air samples are gathered in special bags and brought in for testing or can be tested at the site with a mobile tester.




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