August 23, 2018 / 8:00 PM / a month ago

U.S. senators seek review of lead in military housing, citing Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Eight U.S. 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.

FILE PHOTO - Swab tests at residences in Fort Benning, Georgia, U.S. reveal in red the presence of lead in this undated handout photo obtained by FOIA from the US Army, received by Reuters August 15, 2018. U.S. Army FOIA/Handout via REUTERS

In an amendment filed this week to a defense funding bill, the senators, including senior members of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees, are asking the Government Accountability Office to examine 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,” Georgia Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement Thursday. “Our military families sacrifice greatly in service to our country, and it is our responsibility to do everything we can to ensure their safety.”

FILE PHOTO: A sign warns of a lead hazard at a residence in Fort Benning, Georgia, U.S. in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters August 15, 2018. Georgia Environmental Protection Division/Handout via REUTERS

Isakson sponsored the amendment with Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. Army did not respond to a request for comment on the amendment.

The congressional push follows an August 16 Reuters investigation detailing dangerous lead levels and cases of childhood poisoning on several Army bases across the country, including at Fort Benning, Georgia.

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

Slideshow (3 Images)

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 the potent neurotoxin, once a common ingredient in household paint, can cause lifelong health impairments.

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

The amendment would be part of a larger defense bill, the 2019 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, currently on the Senate floor. Under the amendment, the GAO would have a year to complete its report and submit it to Congress.

Last week, four of the senators proposing this amendment wrote to the Secretary of the Army demanding action and answers to address lead hazards. The Army said it is "committed to providing a safe and secure environment on all of our installations."

Editing by Ronnie Greene.

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