Military Housing Isn’t Free of Lead Paint, Child Poisoned
Emily Price was tested for lead exposure when she was just one year old while living on a military base. Her mother, Coryn Price, was concerned about a window in her room and it was discovered she had a blood lead level above the 5 microgram-per-deciliter threshold for taking action set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the time Emily was tested, she already had symptoms including hearing issues and chronic tiredness. She often would not eat. All of these were signs of lead poisoning.
The most common cause of the poisoning is old, chipping paint in dated homes, and three months prior to Emily’s results, the Prices had moved into a 1934 duplex. Coryn said she expressed concern to a post commander about paint chipping on a window sill in the child’s room. She wasn’t sure the window was to blame, but, “I wanted to know where the lead was coming from and stop it,” she said.
The Guard had the house tested by a privately-owned laboratory while the Prices stayed in a hotel, and the feedback indicated a faux leather couch the Prices owned had tested high for the heavy metal. In October 2016, Guard staff told the family the couch was likely to blame.
Nothing more was done until additional testing September 2016 showed other hazards in the home including paint chips gathered near windows which contained up to 16.5 percent lead by weight – 33 times the acceptable federal hazard level.
Four months after the couch was removed, in February 2017, Emily’s lead levels elevated to 32.5 micrograms per deciliter, more than six times the CDC’s threshold for taking action, according to medical records. A state health department inspection would eventually show her room and three other areas of the home contained toxic levels of leaded dust, and the family’s yard was contaminated, too.
The Guard had failed to disclose the potential presence of lead-based paint to the Prices in leasing documents. Federal law requires landlords to do prior to renting out any pre-1978 housing.
“It’s depressing for a government agency to show such callous disregard for people’s welfare,” said Patrick MacRoy, a former lead poisoning prevention program director. “The right thing to do is inform occupants about all testing results, keep children away from any lead paint hazard found, and repair it promptly.”
The Guard’s spokesperson, Colonel Ed Bush, initially said Emily’s exposure hadn’t come from the military post home and offered that it could have occurred “at Grandma’s house or daycare.” Bush said the Price family wasn’t living in the duplex when her lead levels escalated. He added the military put the family up in a “lead free” hotel on post for nine months for $2,400 a month. However, told there was proof Emily and her family were living in the duplex all those months, Bush blamed the Prices, saying they had been ordered by the post commander to leave the home.
“Why would they go back to the duplex if they had concerns?” Bush asked. He added, “No one specifically ‘kept tabs’ on them. It was assumed they would stay in the hotel.”
Coryn says her family was never told to stay out of the duplex and they continued to pay their monthly rent to the Guard. “Everyone knew where we lived,” she said. “Nobody told us the duplex wasn’t safe.”
Recently, Coryn shared her decision, as a military spouse, to speak up on a Facebook group. “My husband is terrified it’s going to hurt his career. But I can’t sit back and say nothing,” she wrote. “My daughter doesn’t have a voice of her own.”