30th MDOS flexes mussels

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs

Six Airmen slipped and shuffled down the steep embankment to Brown beach, causing sand to be caught up in eddies swirling around them. When the group made their way to the jagged coastline, they hopped nimbly from rock to rock, avoiding the tide pools and slick seaweed patches. The ocean spray salted the air as Senior Airman Lakeya Jones, 30th Medical Operations Squadron public health technician, knelt down on the mussel encrusted rocks, pried one loose, and placed it in the blue bucket she carried.

When the blue bucket was full, Airman 1st Class Dominique Leveridge, 30th MDOS public health technician, took out a scalpel, grabbed a mussel from the bucket and with practiced hands, pried open the shell. He then inserted the blade between the flesh and the shell, slowly cutting the slippery sea creature from its former home. The now shapeless mussel hung from his fingers, glistening like orange mucous. Leveridge then placed it in the clear plastic bottle to send to the California Department of Public Health.

"When the State gets the sample they are going to blend it up like a smoothie to test the mussels for toxins," said Jones.

Every month the 30th MDOS send Airmen to collect mussels for testing, as part of the California Department of Public Health mussel watch program.

The CDPH collects mussel samples along the coast and tests them for paralytic shellfish poisoning and domoic acid poisoning, which are a danger during certain times of the year, according to www.cdph.ca.gov.

"The toxins sit in the tissues of the shell fish and anyone who eats it will get neurotoxin poisoning," said Senior Airman Madasen Sortino, 30th MDOS public health technician.

In an effort to bolster community ties, medical personnel provide this service as a courtesy to the CDPH, with Vandenberg being the only Air Force Base involved in the practice. 

"We work closely with Santa Barbara County Public Health and state public health," said Sortino. "Sometimes there can be a wall between the military and civilians, and I think that things like this help break down that barrier."

Because it is such a unique experience within the public health field, Airmen look forward to getting their toes, or combat boots, in the sand.

"It's nice to go out in the middle of the day and go to the ocean," said Sortino. "Collecting mussels is fun, but what really makes it worthwhile is ensuring the safety of base personnel and local civilians."