The US Military fails in protecting families of service members from lead poisoning.

There has been increased concerns about lead levels in Milwaukee children over the past year or more. The city health department has dropped the ball on following up with treatment for children identified as suffering from lead poisoning. Lead water laterals are only slowly (far too slowly) being remediated because of funding and resource shortages at the city level.

But Milwaukee isn’t the only place in the nation suffering preventable injuries to our children from lead. And one of those other places are military installations in the US…places that should be safe havens for our service members and their families. But lead remediation is expensive…and the responsibility is shared…between the military services and private companies who often own and maintain the on base residences provided to service families.

Reuters has extensive coverage on lead poisoning on Army bases. It’s quite long but worth reading and you can’t feel anything but pissed as you read the expose: Special Report: Children poisoned by lead on U.S. Army bases as hazards ignored

Like most family housing on U.S. bases today, the home wasn’t owned and operated by the military. It was managed by Villages of Benning, a partnership between two private companies and the U.S. Army, whose website beckons families to “enjoy the luxuries of on-post living.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen to families like the Browns, who move often between posts for the U.S. armed forces, trusting base landlords and military brass to provide safe shelter for children and spouses.

Reuters tested five homes at Benning (Fort Benning, GA), using a methodology designed with a Columbia University geochemist. All five contained hazardous levels of deteriorating lead paint within reach of children, in one case exceeding the federal threshold by a factor of 58.

Testing turned up problems elsewhere as well. At West Point, New York, home of the United States Military Academy, paint chips falling from a family’s front door contained lead at 19 times the federal threshold.

At Kentucky’s Fort Knox, whose vaults hold much of America’s gold reserves, Reuters found paint peeling from a covered porch where small kids play. It contained 50 percent lead by weight, or 100 times the threshold.

The Army requires here abatement when certified testing identifies deteriorating lead paint in base homes. Yet it also “discourages” this type of lead-paint inspections, in part because lead abatement can be costly.

The thousand-plus blood results, obtained from Army bases through Freedom of Information Act requests, provide only a glimpse of the problem. A $10 finger-prick test can spot a child exposed to lead, yet millions of U.S. children are never screened. Just how many are tested across all military bases isn’t clear. But for those who are, the results often go unreported to state public health agencies that attend to poisoned kids.

Reuters found that Fort Benning in Georgia was not reporting lead results for small children tested at the base’s hospital. Nor was Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Georgia and Texas, like most states, require the reporting of all these lead testing results to state health authorities.

After reporters asked why it often wasn’t informing state health departments about poisoned children, the Army overhauled its practices to comply with state laws.

[emphasis mine.]

The Defense Department has privatized housing on bases for military personnel and their families. I understand the idea behind it…similar to the trend in business to focus on your core strengths and outsource the rest…it makes a certain amount of sense. But only if you have auditing in place and hold contractors accountable for their actions or inactions. Not only have the private contractors egregiously not met their requirements to provide safe and secure housing…the US Army has turned away from the whole mess and ignored requests for help and allowed the contractors to run amok.

And how can our military be expected to protect and keep the nation safe if they are worrying about our ability to keep their families safe here at home?

This one just boggles my mind. Lead has been a long acknowledged threat…lead paint was banned FORTY years ago. We’ve had lead abatement programs ever since. We have effective and inexpensive tests to identify lead poisoning. We spend BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars on defense…yet we and our military can’t be trusted to protect our most precious citizens.


full disclosure: I have a son who is active US Army, who has served at both Ft Benning and Ft Knox that were identified as having issues in the Reuters article.


Related Articles