JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Residents at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston learned about the steps the military is taking to address the issue of lead exposure hazards at military housing units across the nation at a Town Hall Sept. 13 at the Military & Family Readiness Center.
Leaders conducted the town hall out of an abundance of caution and as a result from a collective discussion between the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, Joint Base San Antonio, Army Support Activity and Lincoln Military Housing.
“We decided to take immediate actions to inform our community and maintain their confidence, particularly after the recent Reuters special report article titled ‘Children poisoned by lead on a U.S. Army bases as hazards ignored,’” said Col. Sam Fiol, Commander of the 502nd Force Support Group and Executive Agent of JBSA-Fort Sam Houston. “The safety of our service members and their families is paramount, and we are committed to providing a safe and secure environment on our installation.”
Ed Roberson, deputy director of the 802d Civil Engineer Squadron, informed the attendees of sources of lead exposure, facilities where lead is most commonly found, and explained mitigation efforts, he informed attendees that “it’s essential for residents to report to the Housing Office any instances of peeling, chipping, or flaking paint” and provided a sample picture. He added that “risks to buildings are mitigated through proper maintenance.”
The town hall showcased a subject matter expert panel of 10 individuals representing JBSA, Army Support Activity, and Lincoln Military Housing leadership, child and youth services, and the medical community (pediatrics, maternal/fetal health, veterinary services and occupational health) who provided information and participated in a question and answer session.
“If service members feel their children have been exposed to lead-based paint, they should contact their primary care manager or the Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center laboratories for testing, and no appointment is necessary to conduct this testing,” said Dr. (Col.) Rebecca Blackwell, 559th Medical Group commander.
Lead in houses is not a new matter. There are an estimated 24 million homes in the U.S. built before 1978 that contain elevated levels of lead. The health and safety concerns posed by exposure to lead are felt across the United States, and the Army is not immune, according to a fact sheet released by the U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs.
While there is no master list of locations known to contain lead-based paint, many homes and facilities built prior to 1978 likely contain surfaces painted with lead-based paint, CE officials said.
The lead-based paint is not hazardous if it is contained under other coats of paint. However, if it is peeling, cracking, stripped or otherwise disturbed, it can be hazardous if ingested. Service members who see peeling paint in a pre-1978 house should report it immediately to their housing office.
Leaders from the Army Support Activity and Lincoln Military Housing were present to answer questions, address issues, and consult with residents on specific requests after the town hall.
Lincoln Military Housing fully discloses to residents when they sign for their homes whether lead paint might be present and provides guidelines and instructions entitled “Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home,” authored by the Environmental Protection Agency.
If a resident suspects their home contains lead-based paint, what can they do to avoid contamination? The Environmental Protection Agency recommends the following steps to protect family members from lead hazards:
1. Notify housing of peeling or chipping paint as soon as possible.
2. Don’t try to remove lead-based paint yourself.
3. Keep painted surfaces clean and free of dust. Clean floors, window frames, window sills and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop or sponge with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner. (Remember: never mix ammonia and bleach products together because they can form a dangerous gas.) Regularly clean floors, window sills, and other surfaces.
4. Take precautions to avoid exposure to lead dust when remodeling.
5. Consult your health care provider about testing your children for lead. Your pediatrician can check for lead with a simple blood test.
6. Wash children’s hands, bottles, pacifiers, and toys often and keep play areas clean.
7. Make sure children eat healthy, low-fat foods high in iron, calcium and vitamin C. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
8. Remove shoes or wipe soil off shoes before entering your house.
Again, residents concerned about potential levels of lead in their blood may get tested at the BAMC or Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center labs without a referral or appointment.
Army officials said they will continue to inform and educate service members and their families about the concerns and health impacts of lead, resources available and methods to report potential risks.
“We are committed to providing the highest quality of care to our service members, their families and all those entrusted to our care,” Fiol added.