Tuesday, August 28, 2018

U.S. Army to Test Bases for Lead After Shocking Report

A Reuters investigation uncovered lead paint hazards
present in many military bases, where service families
have lived for decades without intervention.

Yesterday, the U.S. Army drafted an Army Execution Order to test for lead hazards in 40,000 of its military housing units. The move was in response to an investigation by Reuters, which uncovered a lead paint crisis in U.S. military housing stock.

The Reuters investigation presented previously undisclosed military and state health records. The evidence indicated more than a thousand children on military bases had high blood-lead levels. Additionally, Reuters had five random base houses tested for lead paint; all tested positive for lead hazards, with one over the federal threshold by a factor of 58.

These numbers are only a shadow of the problem, as many military bases haven't had any testing for lead-based paint. Of those tested, results often go unreported to state public health agencies and nothing gets done. Some of the affected bases named in the report include Fort Benning in Georgia, Fort Knox in Kentucky, West Point in New York, and Fort Sam in Texas.

Since the bombshell report dropped, several lawmakers have pushed for legislation to review the military's handling of lead exposure risks. Military officials are expected to meet with lawmakers to address local concerns in the coming weeks.

"We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment on all of our installations," Colonel Kathleen Turner, Army spokeswoman, said in a recent press release.

If implemented, the Army Execution Order would create a lead testing program, prioritizing military housing units occupied by children, the most vulnerable victims of lead exposure. The plan would also target homes built before 1978, the year when lead paint was banned in the United States. In homes where lead hazards are detected, the plan calls on the military to provide "temporary or permanent relocation to families.

The dangers of lead have been highlighted in recent years with lead crises such as Flint, Los Angeles, and New York City. Childhood lead exposure is particularly concerning for public health officials because heavy metal poisoning is linked to blood, bone, and reproductive disorders, as well as irreversible developmental delays. The Execution Order is a step in the right direction, protecting the families of those who give so much to our nation.

However, the plan does not address how long it will take to inspect all of the 100,000 homes on military bases, or even the 40,000 built before 1978. The plan also does not address whether the military has the money for the program available, or if it would need Congress to authorize funding;  program costs are estimated at up to $386 million.

About 30% of military families live on base, yet the decline of military base housing has been known for at least two decades.

"Continuing to neglect these issues runs the risk of collapsing the force," the Department of Defense said in a 1996 briefing document presented to a Congressional sub-committee.

In the late nineties, the military began privatizing its homes in hopes of ridding bases of substandard accommodations by having contractors and investors pay for renovations. While the contractors would have a consistent rental income, taxpayers would save millions.

However, a 2016 report from the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General found poor maintenance and health hazards still present in many homes. Insiders blame it on funding - over the years, the DOD has decreased housing subsidies that fund the upkeep of privatized base housing.

Many military families have expressed fear over complaining about these health hazards. With their landlords in direct business with their employer, many are concerned that retaliating could hurt a service member's career. In the Reuters investigation, more than half of service families interviewed indicated this fear of being identified.

Now with the backing of state officials and lawmakers, and the outrage of the public, service families might see some action on this lead paint crisis.

To learn more about the investigation, visit the Reuters report. To learn more about lead paint, visit Zack Academy's lead homepage.

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