Fort Bragg officials are developing a plan to inspect more than 1,500 homes believed to contain lead-based paint.
The homes, built before lead-based paint was banned in 1978, are in seven neighborhoods across the nation's largest military installation. They include Anzio Acres, Bastogne Gables, Casablanca, Corregidor, Hammond Hills, Normandy and Pope.
Leaders from post and Corvias Military Living, which manages the privatized housing on Fort Bragg, addressed the issue during a town hall on Monday.
Col. Kyle Reed, Fort Bragg's garrison commander, said he believed officials are being proactive in addressing the contaminated homes.
"I think the level of concern here on this installation is very, very low," he said.
In August, an investigation by Reuters revealed dangerously high lead levels at homes on several military installations, including Fort Benning, Georgia; the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York; and Fort Knox, Kentucky.
The Reuters report noted that, according to medical data, at least 31 small children tested high for lead at Fort Benning over a six-year period. At least 77 more high blood-lead tests were reported at Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas.
At Fort Bragg, officials said 10 children under age 5 tested positive for dangerous levels of lead between January 2016 and August 2018. Of those children, only two were living in Fort Bragg housing at the time, according to an official at Womack Army Medical Center, who noted that Fort Bragg's lead levels were lower than the national average.
Fort Bragg's congressman, Rep. Richard Hudson, said he is aware of and will monitor lead paint in housing at Fort Bragg and other military installations.
Hudson said he supports a bipartisan measure to require the Government Accountability Office to report on the monitoring and remediation of lead and the compliance with lead exposure limits in military housing.
"I will continue to work with Fort Bragg and Army officials to ensure appropriate steps are taken to protect military families," he said.
The majority of Fort Bragg families -- over 70 percent -- live in off-post housing, officials have said.
But for those who do live on post, Fort Bragg has more than 6,100 homes, including approximately 2,770 that were built before 1978, when the stricter safety laws banning lead paint went into effect.
Mike Sarisky, director of operations for Corvias Military Living, said 1,220 of the homes built before 1978 have since been renovated and tested negative for lead-based paint. Of the remaining 1,550 homes, he said, many are scheduled to be renovated in the future.
Officials noted that the existence of lead-based paint in homes was not in itself a cause for alarm.
Sarisky said homes are repainted between every tenant, meaning most have been repainted at least twice -- and some as many as six times -- since 2003.
An official with Fort Bragg's Directorate of Public Works said concern comes from homes that may have chipping paint or dust from window and door frames. The paint chippings and dust can be harmful, particularly if ingested by small children. Lead poisoning can affect the development and growth of children and, in severe cases, can cause coma, convulsions and even death.
At Fort Bragg, 1,107 of the homes built prior to 1978 have families with children under 6 years old.
Officials asked residents to note chipping paint and other wear and tear in homes and report it to Corvias Military Living. They also urged families to seek lead poison testing for their children if there are concerns.
Reed, speaking at Fort Bragg's Family Readiness Group Center, said the biggest priority for the installation was helping residents understand the issue and what is being done to address it.
He noted that Fort Bragg is 100 years old and has many older homes, but said officials have taken a proactive approach to cleaning or covering lead-based paint.
Sarisky said renovated homes have been gutted and all traces of lead-based paint have been removed. In other homes, special encapsulating paint has been used to mitigate risk.
He said Corvias Military Living has a 35-year plan to renovate homes on Fort Bragg, with 153 homes in the Pope neighborhood scheduled for major interior and exterior renovations.
Sarisky also said lead-based paint in the Hammond Hills neighborhood was restricted to metal railings outside of homes. And he said issues in the Casablanca and Corregidor neighborhoods were restricted to single-family dwellings.
Fort Bragg's town hall came less than two weeks after Army officials announced plans to screen 40,000 homes on military installations following the Reuters investigation.
According to reports, Army Secretary Mark Esper told reporters late last month that officials were working on a long-term plan to repair affected homes.
"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," Esper said, according to reports.
Following the Reuters investigation, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators also called for the Army to do more to protect military families living in on-post housing.
In a letter to Esper, Sens. Tim Kaine, David Perdue, Mark Warner and Johnny Isakson expressed their concerns with the dangers posed by lead-based paint in military homes.
"We write to you today concerned about recent reports of lead poisoning at a number of Army installations. The health and safety of our servicemembers and their families are of the utmost importance," the senators said.
They asked for a detailed briefing on how the Army will address the issue, including medical treatment for those potentially affected and long-lasting repairs.
This article is written by Drew Brooks from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.