FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 14, 2018) -- Lead hazards in the home was the subject of a virtual town hall Sept. 13, hosted by the Col. Kenneth D. Harrison, Fort Drum garrison commander, with a panel of experts at Fort Drum, New York.

Although this is not a health concern affecting people living on post, officials realize that Fort Drum community members may have questions following the recent report from Reuters news agency that children were at risk for lead poisoning at privatized housing on some Army installations.

"What we want to do is put most of your concerns at rest right from the start," Harrison said to the online audience. "If any installation doesn't need to have a lead-based town hall, it's ours because we don't have lead-based paint on our on-post housing."

William Bamann, housing division chief, said that Fort Drum is a comparatively modern installation in the Army with most of the facilities constructed after 1983 - years after the federal law prohibited the sale of lead-based paint in 1978.

He said lead paint in 88 housing units on post that pre-dated 1978 were abated and removed in the 2006-2007 timeframe and demolished in 2017. All of Fort Drum's privatized housing, operated by Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes, was constructed after the ban on lead-based paint.

Bamaan said that about one-third of the 15,000 Soldiers stationed at Fort Drum live off-post in rental or purchased homes.

"A majority of those Soldiers live in Army-approved rental housing that we inspect every two to three years," he said. "About 6 percent of the rental housing that we inspect were constructed before 1978, so there's very little lead-based issues in off-post rental housing."

He added that most of the homes purchased by service members were constructed before 1978 and may have lead-based paint issues.

"So if you are a homeowner, you should know that if you buy a home that the presence of lead paint is required by law to be disclosed," Bamann said. "If you are renting off-post, the property manager is also required to disclose the presence of lead-based paint."

Mike Nuckols, Fort Drum environmental compliance chief, said that peeling paint or deteriorating surfaces can create dust and paint chips, and it can lead to ingestion or inhalation exposure. Nuckols said that homeowners should be cautious, especially around window sills, trims, and window or door jams - anywhere a child could come in contact with lead paint particles.

"To remedy that, if you have lead-based paint in your home, it is critical that those surfaces stay in good repair, that you keep the paint intact," he said. "It may be necessary to call an abatement contractor, in certain cases, or even removing and replacing the paint with lead-free paint."

Nuckols also advised that children should be taken out of the room, or even the home, before any renovation work is started.

"It needs to be treated by someone who understands the risks and can keep that dust from migrating to other areas," he said.

Addressing the issue of water contamination, Nuckols said that lead levels are virtually nonexistent in the drinking water on post. So low, in fact, that the New York State Department of Health has placed Fort Drum on a limited monitoring program and only has to be tested every three years. No homes on post have lead-based plumbing systems.

However, he said that residents who live off-post need to be aware if their homes have lead piping in their plumbing system.

"Lead in water systems typically occur as a result of lead in the piping systems," Nuckols said. "If you live in an older home and have old pipes from 50 years ago, the pH from water can cause the lead to corrode into the water and increase that concentration."

There are other sources of lead hazards besides drinking water and house paint, and these include toys, cosmetics, utensils and exposure from workplaces or hobbies. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed items such as artificial turf, imported food and spices, and toy jewelry (such as the kind sold in vending machines) as potential sources of lead.

Faith Lustik, from Jefferson County Public Health Service, said that New York state public health law requires every one-year- and two-year-old child to be tested for exposure to lead, and risk assessments are required up until the age of six.

"We partner with MEDDAC (Medical and Dental Activity) at Fort Drum, and they send us all test results for all children who are seen on post," she said. "If you are in the community and are concerned ... you really should see your provider and get a blood lead test, and that is a covered service for children in the community."

Lustik said if a child is tested positive for lead poisoning, her department will provide education, case management and schedule an environmental inspection of the home with the New York State Department of Health.

"In Jefferson County as a whole, we have approximately 250 children each year who are blood poisoned, but the majority of those children are definitely not living on Fort Drum or affiliated with the military whatsoever," she said. "We really have a handle on what's going on with lead poisoning."

Lt. Col. Diego Gonzalez, chief of pediatrics at Guthrie Ambulatory Health Care Clinic, said that he has extensive experience with the management of lead exposure and the treatment of children with lead poisoning.

"The focus should be now on primary prevention," he said. "If there's any suspicion that your child might have been exposed to lead, let us know. That is my job to serve you."

For more information about lead hazards, protective measures and more resources, visit https://phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/workplacehealth/ih/Pages/Lead.aspx.