Medical data shows that 31 children living in on-post housing at the Army’s Fort Benning suffered harmful levels of lead poisoning, according to a new investigative report published Thursday by Reuters.
The children were exposed to the lead in military family housing on base via lead-based paint, dust and peeling or flaking of painted areas in the aging homes, according to the report. The Villages of Benning is comprised of housing complexes for married and single soldiers.
The investigation also found Army housing and other structures with dangerously high levels of lead at Fort Polk, Fort Riley, Fort Hood, Fort Bliss, Fort Knox and the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Data showing an alarming number of children testing positive for blood-based lead was provided to Reuters by the Army. The reporting discovered that from 2011 to 2016, the Army identified more than 1,100 children who tested above the Center for Disease Control’s elevated lead level threshold.
The investigation by Reuters has resulted in mixed reactions from the military that vary by installation and command.
Fort Knox contract housing announced a lead-abatement initiative in response to the findings, while Fort Benning’s command issued messages to its families to not particpate in any investigation regarding the lead. The Army declined to comment on the lead findings by Reuters.
However, a written statement was released to Reuters by Col. Kathleen Turner, an Army spokeswoman.
"We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment on all of our installations.”
According to the Villages of Benning website, there are homes that are newer or recently renovated. However, much older homes do exist for families to reside in. For example, families have been housed in the area known as the"Iron Triangle" dating back to before World War II.
This isn’t the first report of problems in military family housing. A 2015 report by the Military Times found that bases in the Washington area had hundreds of deficiencies that were considered potentially dangerous.
Many of the on-post housing for military families is managed by private contracting companies. According to Reuters, “Private contractors house some 700,000 Americans at more than 100 military installations nationwide, including an estimated 100,000 children ages 0 through 5.”
According to the Army, families who rent homes built before 1978 are given lead-oriented disclosure forms before they can sign the lease. This is required by federal law for all landlords in the U.S.
Lead was used in house paint before 1978.
The Army Public Health Center maintains an Army Lead Program on their website. The U.S. Army Lead Program falls under the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management. The organization’s homepage said it offers “a resource to Major Army Commands and Installations for management of lead and asbestos in Army facilities. But the link for “Training Information” under the Lead Program Overview tab reads “unavailable.”
“Lead affects virtually every system in the body,” according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) website.
“Very severe lead exposure in children (blood lead levels > or = to 380 µg/dL) can cause coma, convulsions, and even death. Lower levels cause adverse effects on the central nervous system, kidney, and hematopoietic system. Blood lead levels as low as 10 µg/dL, which do not cause distinctive symptoms, are associated with decreased intelligence and impaired neurobehavioral development. Many other effects begin at these low blood lead levels, including decreased stature or growth, decreased hearing acuity and decreased ability to maintain a steady posture,” explains the CDC website on the range of effects of lead.