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JBSA-Fort Sam Houston town hall meeting addresses lead in drinking water

By Steve Elliott | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Aug. 21, 2018


“The drinking water on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston is safe to drink.”

That was the message delivered by 502nd Force Support Group Commander Col. Samuel E. Fiol and other officials to approximately 100 base housing residents at a town hall held at Lincoln Military Housing Aug. 2.

“We felt a town hall was the best forum to provide official results and information on this topic and to allow for residents’ concerns to be addressed by our subject matter experts,” Fiol said. “We want to make sure people feel comfortable about the water coming from a spigot outside their house or from their faucets indoors.”

During routine sampling completed in May, 22 samples of drinking water taken from outside spigots in residences throughout Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston exceeded the action level for lead.  While the lead levels found at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston were not a violation under federal or state law, it did prompt JBSA-Fort Sam Houston officials to post public education information, and if found to have a high lead level in subsequent sampling, put a program in place to minimize lead in the drinking water.

Edward L. Roberson, deputy director, 802nd Civil Engineer Squadron discussed the way water samples were taken at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and how samples can become skewed. Roberson said “When we received the results, we went back out and retested the houses that came back high. All of them – except for house which had sat vacant – came back with levels below the action level.”

Also speaking at the town hall was Dr. (Col.) Rebecca S. Blackwell, commander of the 559th Medical Group. After reviewing the re-sampling results she stated, “As a pediatrician and a flight surgeon, I have no concerns about the quality of the drinking water at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston,” Blackwell said. “The water is safe to drink.”

Currently, 60 samples are taken every six months with the next planned sample collection event for lead and copper taking place during the first week of October, Roberson added.

Additionally, a JBSA Drinking Water Working Group has already met and will convene quarterly – and more often, if needed – to analyze and oversee the sampling process and address all local drinking water issues involving compliance, risk reduction and continuous improvement. To promote resident involvement, a JBSA-Fort Sam Houston housing resident will be named to the Drinking Water Working Group.

In a new process, the 559th Aeromedical Squadron’s Bioenvironmental Engineering section will notify Lincoln Military Housing two weeks out to let residents know the dates of the upcoming sampling and provide information about it. At one week out, an education meeting on the sampling process will be offered.

On the date stated in the notice, bottles and paperwork will be delivered to the resident’s house. After residents follow the provided instructions, 559th AMDS/SGPB officials will pick up the samples the next day.

JBSA-Fort Sam Houston residents who are concerned about lead exposure levels are able to have their blood tested at the Brooke Army Medical Center laboratory without having to make an appointment with their primary care manager.

Steps that can be taken at home to reduce exposure to water contaminants:


- Flush your system. Let the water run from the tap before using it for drinking or cooking any time the water in a faucet has gone unused for more than six hours. The longer water resides in plumbing the more lead it may contain. Flushing the tap means running the cold water faucet for about 15-30 seconds. Flushing tap water is a simple and inexpensive measure you can take to protect your health. It usually uses less than one to two gallons of water.

- Use only cold water for cooking and drinking. Do not cook with, or drink water from the hot water tap. Hot water can dissolve lead more quickly than cold water. If you need hot water, draw water from the cold tap and then heat it.

- Use bottled water.  The steps described above will reduce lead concentrations in your drinking water. However, if you are still concerned, you may wish to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.

“The health and welfare of our service members and their families is a paramount concern of the Joint Base San Antonio leadership and Lincoln Military Housing, and we will continue to strive for exceptional service in everything we do to be the premier installation in the Department of Defense,” Fiol added. “Wherever we are falling short, please let me know so I can get involved to make it better.”