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Children poisoned by lead on U.S. Army bases (reuters.com)
170 points by petethomas 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

Stuff like this is pretty common in the military. When I was stationed at Camp Lejeune NC, my wife worked as a reporter for a local paper. One of her assignments was interviewing people at a town hall style meeting regarding chemicals in the base water supply. Children of people that lived in base housing had an abnormally high cancer rate, but the military denied that any of the contaminated water was leaking into the drinking water.

I also remember the barracks I lived in had old asbestos floor tiles and the walls were covered in lead paint. They eventually renovated the barracks, and instead of getting rid of the lead paint, they just painted over it. The asbestos tiles weren't dealt with, and all they said was "just don't use a floor buffer and you'll be fine". There was also a cleaning station where we'd clean our rifles, no safety warnings or instructions were given, and we thought it was just a cleaning solution. Later we saw a warning sticker on it that said to use full eyes, face, and hand protection because the cleaning solution could cause neurological damage. Just waiting for health probelms to crop up once I'm older :/

> instead of getting rid of the lead paint, they just painted over it

This is actually one of the correct ways to deal with lead paint, assuming the "paint" is actually a proper encapsulant. See for example https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/lead/renovation_repa...

Ditto for the asbestos --- if it's not in a state where fibers of it can easily flake off and float around to be inhaled (technical term is "friable"), it won't do any harm.

Where is the source for this claim? I've always had a conspiracy theory that this is not true and that the "do not disturb and you'll be fine" theory was put forth to save all the home owners who would otherwise be told their homes are worthless or extremely expensive to properly fix. Even if the suggested reasoning is true, who is there to gurantee that a pervious owner did not improperly disturb the asbestos. My real estate agent toward me in all his years of experience in only one case did another ever admit to knowing of a problem where signing off on the proper lead paint/radon/asbestos warnings.

Where is the source for this claim?

The EPA, for one.


The problem is inhalation of fibers, so if the fibers are not in the air and inhalable, they pose no risk.

OSHA also conveniently provides references[1] to various relevant publications by EPA, NIOSH, DHHS, NCI, et al.

[1] https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/asbestos/hazards.html

>My real estate agent toward me

Don't ever trust anything a real estate agent tells you, especially if that agent stands to gain financially from your actions; they are the "used car salesmen" for houses. They lie.

>only one case did another ever admit to knowing of a problem where signing off on the proper lead paint/radon/asbestos warnings.

A problem? Like the existence of them? You should test for radon before buying a house, so you'll know. I have friends who turned down a house with high levels of radon because the seller wasn't willing to negotiate for radon remediation. Lead paint isn't a concern as long as it is undisturbed, however, you need to treat every house built before 1980 as having lead paint. Asbestos? I have asbestos in my house, which was disclosed to me, but it was professionally wrapped, so safe as long as it remains so. Pretty much every house that's as old as mine contains asbestos, at least in my neighborhood. So it doesn't effect the value of it at all, as long as it's wrapped.

And, in fact, any work to remove it can kick up dust and increase health hazards.

True, and it can easily be exposed and made airborne by by accident. For example, many HVAC professionals are unaware or unconcerned about the asbestos fiberboard panels that were often packaged around register boxes until the 70's. These boards are fragile and will readily shed fibers into the air.

Same goes for old ceiling panels, often loaded with friable asbestos. An act as simple as drilling a hole, or installing new can lights can load up the room with airborne fibers if done carelessly.

Which raises the following question: is it better to leave the potential source of problem around as long as it's not triggered, or is it better to temporarily activate it in order to remove it for good?

I have a suspicion that these people that "flip" houses diy style tend to disturb it without proper care. As a 17 year old I worked manual construction jobs (via craigslist) and even then knew enough to see proper precautions were not being taken. Oh well, they aren't the ones living in the house so I guess it all works out :-/

The key of the successful asbestos removal is to not make it airborne during the removal.

Asbestos tile and roofing aren’t really a big hazard. Usually the risky stuff that is still around is insulation in ceiling plenum and in concrete walls in 50-70s buildings.

Government buildings are always suspect, as they often are exempt from many building codes, including fire codes.

Former Navy officer here. The "privatized" housing was a complete farce. There's a natural monopoly on military base housing and turning that over to a for-profit private company nearly guarantees they're going to cut costs at every opportunity.

We lived on base for a number of years but after a while it seemed like a scam to siphon the service members' entire housing allowance. Maintenance was horrible, conditions were horrible, there were waiting lists just to get into the housing, and heavy penalties if you broke your lease early with no opportunity to negotiate out, even if the wait list was a mile long.

We ended up renting houses near the base out in town that were much cheaper and not infested with mice and cockroaches. Most people I knew who thought living in base housing was convenient and cheaper came to the same conclusion.

This was my experience as well. Not to mention, when you do move out, they are extremely anal with inspections and make you pay for "damage" even if you can prove that it was there before you (pictures, etc).

And not to mention the weekly inspections. There was a sergeant that used to come around the neighborhood with a ruler, measuring people's grass to ensure it was within regulated length. A friend of mine got in trouble with the first sergeant for not cutting his lawn often enough.

Military bases are some of the most polluted sites in America. Lots of soil/groundwater contamination from BTEX and other poorly handled chemicals. However, Military bases provide a lot of research for remediation engineering.



Family used to work on a big air force base (in major metro), they'd just dump chemicals straight into the creek behind the base from the shops.

Yes, sadly this is not an anomaly: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/

Fuck me! The top comment as of now in this comments page is someone's personal experience of Camp Lejeune!


Well, it is a huge base! Hey, at least the VA can cover my out-of-pocket cancer expenses?

Don’t forget all the lead from rifle ammunition!

>The 80-year-old white stucco home...

Well there's your problem. Old houses have lead. It should be assumed to be that way unless there's reason to believe otherwise.

It'll be another 50+yr before most lead paint is gone. The fact of the matter is that labor is expensive in this country so lead paint is rarely dealt with unless it's conveniently within the scope of other work.

I don't think this article very meaningful unless we have more data points. Is base housing more or less likely to contain lead than similiar quality housing in other cities?

I find the revelation that the military has failed to notify state health agencies of lead poisoning as reqired by law and refused to take effective steps to prevent further poisoning after the issue was brought to their attention to be extremely meaningful and newsworthy. The cost to properly remediate lead poisoning hazards is far less than the societal costs of lead poisoning, including additional healthcare and education costs and lost future economic contributions from brain-damaged children.

Sure, but when you're talking about a military house inside a military base owned and maintained by the military you have to assume that the military bears some responsibility for it.

Just waving your hands and walking away because it's old is a bit short sighted.

I'm non sure why you are being downvoted, and in typical HN fashion no one wants to take the time to explain why.

I don't think anyone would excuse an apartment building owner for renting apartments to tenants with lead painted walls, so I'm not sure why folks here think the US Army should get a free pass...

No one is getting a free pass. The article discusses private landlords.

>I don't think this article very meaningful

It tells me that we have no idea how dangerous things we use/make are. Killing ourselves with a paint, that's a degenerate way to live.

It’s as recent as anything built before 1986 when it comes to lead pipes: https://www.epa.gov/lead/protect-your-family-exposures-lead

In the UK we had lead in petrol until the year 2000 and most motorsports was sponsored by big tobacco in those days. So worrying about a little bit of lead in paint left over from 1986 kind of shows how far we have come.

We did actually have lead free petrol before then in the UK and the government even made it significantly cheaper. But nobody wanted it, they chose to pay extra to put toxic lead in their cars. Damaging their engine bothered people more than damaging their kids brains (or even their own brains).

Luckily the UK was part of Europe and EU legislation resulted in leaded fuel being removed from forecourts.

I also find it amusing that we still call that petrol “unleaded,” as if to imply that the natural state of petrol is leaded and some company has kindly removed the lead from it to make it safer, rather than never adding it.

I don't know, "unleaded" sounds kind of like "unleavened", where leavening was never added in the first place. I think "deleaded" might be closer to "lead removed", if it were a word.

Private plane owners in the USA still burn leaded fuel! It's the source of 50% of children's lead exposure.

Gonna need to see a source on that 50%

The US government probably isn't subject to the same abatement and disclosure laws as regular landlords.

This is often true. There's typically "equivalent" regulations that are created by the executive branch for the executive branch. However, it's difficult to hold anybody accountable for violations, so you don't typically have any recourse like you do with a private party.

> Old houses have lead

So I’ll accept that lead pipes are not great but how bad is lead paint really?

Specifically, if you have lead paint underneath several layers of more modern titanium paint, what is the lead poisoning risk? I thought the more significant risk with lead paint was from paint flaking into dust, especially for painted iron which comes off as the iron rusts.

Lead paint that has been covered in layers of latex paint is safe.

Most of the hazard of lead paint comes from kids eating paint chips in poorly maintained buildings or contractors sanding it off and contaminating the building.

Also, lead paint tastes sweet, so leaded paint chips are extremely appealing for small children to eat.

> Old houses have lead. It should be assumed to be that way unless there's reason to believe otherwise.

Lead paint was more expensive (it was whiter), so buy an old house that was cheap for its time :)

I see a few outdated comments here about the water at Camp Lejeune. In 2012, a law (Camp Lejeune Families Act) was passed to pay for medical care for servicemembers and their families who were affected by the water quality. Additionally, veterans who were stationed at Lejeune during that time now receive "presumptive service connection" for many ailments. This means they automatically receive disability pensions and medical care if they develop one of the ailments; they don't have to prove that they developed it as a result of the water exposure.


ProPublica has a whole series about military bases and pollution, open burns, etc:


Where exactly in the link does it say the army discourages lead testing?

Reuters says "Yet it also “discourages” this type of lead-paint inspection" at the link https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/workplacehealth/ih/Pages/L...

It doesn’t force remediation for lead paint, it indicates only deteriorating paint is addressed.

Former Army Vet here.

I've lived in buildings that were condemned a year before I was living in them. I was then moved out of it because they were reclassified as condemned. Less than a year later I was moved back into it because we ran short of living space. All of this while there were huge patches of black mold on walls, in vents, and on the bed mattress themselves.

The guidance we received was to bleach everything. I'm not sure if this was done because of ignorance or more nefarious reasons. We ultimately took note of the worse rooms and avoided using them when possible.

It almost always takes the local news agency breaking a story about these condemned barracks before anything is actually done. Usually they just condemn the building again and the cycle repeats.

This was located in GA where humidity is a problem and almost entirely impossible to combat.

If I was hard pressed, I do have pictures of rooms I've lived in with patches of mold on the walls.

I keep seeing reclaimed wood with pretty peeling white paint in high end places. Every time, I wonder if it's lead paint placed by a niave interior decorator.

Most reclaimed wood doesn't have any character so much of it is enhanced with faux aging treatments so they can charge more and have better uniformity.

Stupid question, but how is the danger from lead paint? Do you have to eat paint chips? I see you can breathe in the dust- how much dust does it take?

I don't know how much dust it takes, one can google 'lead oxide MSDS' though. Occupational limits are 0.05mg/m3.

What I've read is lead is really bad for neurological development. Isn't as bad for adult men. Acute toxicity isn't that bad. LD50 > 10000 mg/kg ( Rat ).

Two problems with lead paint is, lead is an insidious poison. The body doesn't clear lead that well and it has a long half life. So small repeated exposures cause harm.

And small children will happily eat lead paint chips. Which is an issue since lead is a neurotoxin and impairs brain development at very low levels.

> Occupational limits are 0.05mg/m3.

A note on those limits: The medical limit is zero, and that is not fear mongering but the result of ever more results over decades of research. In a little course I took from Tuft University about drinking water one of the four weeks was dedicated to the topic "lead". Two professors, one an engineer and one a medical professor taught the course. The medical professor made that point over several lectures.

Also, from personal experience of having been diagnosed with chronic heavy metal poisoning by lab data (university clinic, researcher specialist doctor) as well as by unexpectedly amazing success of chelation treatment using DMPS and DMSA, and continuing far beyond when excretion went way below "thresholds" I too can tell you from my own experience that effects are there for extremely small quantities, just as the often population-level and statistics based research shows. My "on/off" experience for years of using chelators let me have extremely uncommon experiences. First of all, this kind of stuff is almost never diagnosed (only pretty high doses of acute poisoning are easy to test for, what is stored in the body is inaccessible to tests unless you cut a piece off of organs to send to the lab - forget blood tests, they only show what's on the move outside cells right now). Second, when people get chelators they stop when only little is excreted. From my experience that is an error, treatment should continue until the patient says there are no effects (of the treatment) any more. What remains stored in the body comes out very very slowly. Chelators only have access to extracelluar space to begin with. Something that happens to (heavy metal) chronic poisoning patients quite often is that excretion levels at first remain pretty low, or they go down quickly - but after a few months of chelation the suddenly go up, and the body starts acting funny (it starts excreting on its own). Happened to me too, after half a year of linear decrease of after-chelation measurements it suddenly went up by a factor of three, and my body became very active, lots and lots of stuff happening. For example - and I felt that because the surrounding tissue was "active" for a few weeks - a nodule I had in an enlarged thyroid as well as the enlargement itself completely disappeared. The endocrinologist who just two years before had recommended surgery was left stumbling "I'm amazed" again and again - after checking the thyroid twice with ultrasound because he could not believe it. This phenomenon shows that the body may not excrete on its own when the burden is too high.

So for me the whole discussion is quite personal, but ten years ago I would have been like everybody else, I would not have taken this whole very abstract issue seriously at all.

That there is a limit is because it is not technically possible to get to zero when there are heavy metals, or for everybody to avoid it, so the government sets a limit as a compromise between cost and what is achievable.

By the way, I had my two Italian espresso portafilter machines tested for lead. The expensive one which had everything made of copper had no lead but elevated copper (which is no big deal, copper is essential and the body has pretty good transport mechanisms, see "ceruloplasmin"). The cheaper one with brass though exceeded the drinking water limit many times! I had tested it because I wanted to sell it. It was a Rancilio Sylvia, by the way.

What is also notable that several heavy metals at once may be far more (orders of magnitude) toxic than just one. There was a lethal dose study decades ago that tested lead and mercury individually. When they combined the two lethal dose dropped to a thousandth, meaning it was a thousand times more toxic. Mercury is in our environment, especially large predator fish, and in amalgam fillings for teeth. So if somebody who is exposed to "a little bit" of mercury is also exposed to lead you can forget those official thresholds even more.

Very interesting story. Thanks for this. I've had good success with DMSA myself, it was almost immediate relief when I started, but never got to this dumping stage as you describe, and now it feels like the progress has plateaued. Perhaps this is a similar situation.

I think I actually inhaled lead paint, which caused my particular problems. Sanding old furniture without a mask, not a good idea at all. Many many years ago. Young, and had no clue what I was doing :-/

I was wondering if you wouldn't mind helping with more details about your protocol? If so can you e-mail me at adsfqwop@gmail.com. Thanks a lot.

Canada considers blood lead levels of less < 10 µg/dL as "safe", however there were measurable differences in IQ in children with blood lead levels even below this level. Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2235210/

It appears to me that no level of lead exposure is truly safe.

The article is mostly wrong about breathing in the home. The dust gets on things and the things get eaten. The danger is the oral route. It's particularly likely for kids because lead tastes sweet.



Your comment is in pretty poor taste.

We're talking about an institution that wrecks entire countries with bombs. But lead poisoning is in poor taste.

We are our own worst enemies

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