US Senators Seek Review of Lead Contamination in Military Housing

August 23, 2018 Updated: August 23, 2018

Eight senators are pushing for a federal review of the military’s plans to protect children from exposure to lead, citing a Reuters report on lead poisoning in military housing.

In an amendment filed this week to the fiscal 2019 defense funding bill, the senators, including senior members of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees, are asking the Government Accountability Office to review the military’s handling of lead poisoning risks nationwide.

Most military family housing has been privatized and is operated by corporations, in partnership with the branches of the armed services.

“The recent reports regarding lead poisoning in some military housing units is disturbing and must absolutely be corrected,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement on Aug. 23. “Our military families sacrifice greatly in service to our country, and it is our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure their safety.”

Isakson co-sponsored the amendment with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. Army didn’t respond to a request for comment on the amendment.

The congressional push follows an Aug. 16 Reuters investigation that detailed dangerous lead levels, as well as cases of childhood poisoning, on several Army bases across the country, including at Fort Benning, Georgia.

While at least 1,050 small children tested high for lead at Army hospitals and clinics in recent years, many of these results were going unreported to state health authorities, Reuters reported. The Army told Reuters it has since begun reporting the test results.

Reuters conducted its own lead testing in homes at several Army bases and found severe poisoning hazards, such as deteriorating lead-based paint within reach of small children. Exposure to lead, a potent neurotoxin and a formerly common ingredient in household paint, can cause lifelong health impairments.

Although poisoning is preventable if housing is well-maintained, Reuters found failures in remediating risks on military bases, and also a culture that some say discourages families from speaking out.