Exposure to Lead and VA Benefits (Part I: Lead Paint)

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Exposure to lead in the environment can have a disastrous impact on health. There are many routes of exposure, and many regulations in the past have sought to reduce the exposure risk to the civilian population. However, is it possible that the laws intended to protect civilians haven’t protected service members to the same extent?

Lead Paint in Family Housing and Barracks

Lead paint was ubiquitous in homes painted before the 1960’s, used as a primary ingredient in household paints. In 1978, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead-based paints from residential use. However, lead does not disappear easily. Approximately 75% of residences built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint. Under the law, landlords of properties built before 1978 must provide lessees with a disclosure with regards to the dangers of lead exposure. However, the Department of Defense has shown in the past that it does not consider the “Residency Occupancy Agreements” it uses for Base housing to be the legal equivalent of a lease, and when the Navy was sued for failure to comply with these disclosure rules at Kingsville Naval Air Station in Texas in 1998, it fought and won.

There have been several cases in which the DoD or DoD contractors has violated these lead-based paint laws. In 2012, the EPA alleged that military housing at the Naval Submarine base in Groton, CT, and the Naval Shipyard in Kittery, ME were not in compliance with lead-based paint regulation, and the residents of these housing units included 9 families with children.

Many military bases aren’t in the United States, and regulatons and laws differ other countries, so there may even be current paint in barracks or family housing that contains lead. This memo shows that paint containing lead is still used, and is “normally present” in Misawa Air base family housing in Japan. How many overseas bases contain housing that still uses lead-based paint? The answer is unclear.

Lead Paint at Work

Almost every enlisted service member in the Navy or Coast Guard remembers painting. Hours and hours of painting, and hours and hours of needle gunning, sanding, and using deck growlers to remove paint. The dust from the paint would clog our pores, and it would be difficult to remove, even in the shower. Primer and paint covered our skin and clothing. I’m sure similar duties were common in other branches as well. The military still uses lead-based pant in many cases for its durability.

The farther back your service, the more likely you were exposed to lead paint, however even recent sailors, airmen, and soldiers were likely exposed. In my next post, I will continue exploring routes of occupational exposure to lean in service members.

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