This article was updated at 8 p.m. EST with additional information and a new statement from Fort Benning’s commanding general.
Officials at Fort Benning, Georgia, have discovered “elevated” levels of lead in the water supply in at least a small area of the installation, according to official social media posts and a soldier impacted by the incident.
The problem was discovered during unscheduled maintenance after a pipe burst in one of the post’s NCO Academy barracks.
The water in six unoccupied rooms was tested and five rooms “came back with an elevated level of lead in the water,” Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe said in a statement to Army Times several hours after this article’s initial publication.
“After running those faucets for 30 seconds, we tested that water again and the water was below the acceptable threshold for lead,” Donahoe continued. “But that’s not good enough and so...we took some immediate action.”
Fort Benning moved all troops out of the affected NCO Academy, and instructed service members at the Officer Candidate School next door to stop drinking or bathing with the water, according to Donahoe. An officer candidate who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly previously informed Army Times of the restrictions.
The impacted troops had yet to receive bottled water, instead relying on a water trailer, the soldier said. After this article’s initial publication, bottled water was distributed to the officer candidates.
The complexes are located on adjacent blocks and their renovated buildings, known as “the Cuartels,” date to the 1920s and 30s. More than 300 officer candidates are currently enrolled at OCS.
Donahoe said the installation is currently testing the water in the OCS complex, and “through an abundance of caution[,] we kept a number of our Officer Candidate School companies in the field a little bit longer.”
Fort Benning will continue to “test all of the water in these facilities” during holiday block leave, Donahoe added, “to ensure that when they return...they return to facilities where we are absolutely sure that they have access to water for drinking and for hygiene.”
Building 399′s recent plumbing renovations were the subject of an official complaint earlier this year. According to a FOX 5 investigation, a former employee accused a plumbing subcontractor of violating their contract and using Chinese-made parts when installing water pipes in the building.
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Fort Benning’s historic buildings have had issues with lead, either.
A 2018 investigation by Reuters revealed significant problems with lead paint in on-post housing at the Georgia installation, and it helped spark a massive wave of renovations and lead paint remediation both there and across the force.
The news comes amid rising concerns about the Defense Department’s water supply at various locations across the world.
Beginning in late November, fuel contaminated the water supply at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, affecting more than 1,400 housing units.
The base commander came under fire after he initially told families that the water was safe to drink, and that he personally was drinking the water. He later apologized after additional testing revealed that fuel from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility had indeed entered the water supply.
The Defense Department is also still struggling to determine how many installations’ water supplies are contaminated with toxic “forever chemicals,” too.
Cancer-linked per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, collectively known as PFAS, could be lurking in the water at some 700 military installations. As of this summer, according to the Environmental Working Group’s PFAS mapping project, 385 DoD-linked sites are confirmed to have PFAS-tainted water.
Military Times Pentagon bureau chief Meghann Myers contributed to this report.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.