Army Secretary Pledges to Clean Up Thousands of Lead-Tainted Base Homes

File photo of housing at the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Army Photo)
File photo of housing at the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. (Army Photo)

The U.S. Army's top official pledged Wednesday to eradicate chipping and peeling lead paint in roughly 40,000 base homes -- a health hazard that is particularly dangerous to young children.

"This is a troubling situation of great concern for me and the other Army leaders," Army Secretary Mark Esper told a group of reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast. "The safety of our soldiers and their families is paramount, so our immediate task right now is to address the problem."

The service launched an "immediate action plan" after Reuters published an investigation into the problem, revealing that more than 1,000 small children had tested "high for lead" levels, according to the Aug. 16 report.

"Their results often weren't being reported to state health authorities as required," the news agency reported.

The plan to address the lead problem was first reported by Reuters.

"As you know, this affects roughly 40,000 homes, some of which are owned by the Army, some of which are leased by the Army," Esper said. "They are all our Army families, and we intend to take care of them the best we can, particularly the children, because the biggest concern is the ingestion of lead by children."

The service quickly formed a "crisis action team" to come up with ways to address the problem, Esper said. "The immediate action plan is to get the word out to everybody ... if you have chipping or peeling paint in your home, immediately notify the garrison, and we will get somebody out there that day, as soon as possible, and we will address the issue."

Inspecting homes built before 1978 for sources of lead is slated to cost up to $386 million, Reuters reported.

Part of the plan involves searching for other sources of lead in Army homes, Esper added.

"The Army is also going above and beyond, I think," he said. "We are going to look at, for example, water at the tap in all homes to make sure we don't have an issue with lead pipes, and we want to look at runoff into the soil from exterior paint.

"At some point, we will go back and look at procedures and try to understand what happened and why some of these homes got to the point that they did," he added.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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