Town Hall Questions and Answers
How did the situation start?
It started with finding elevated lead levels in a child, then the 90th Medical Group Bioenvironmental Engineering team took 373 samples and found lead in a bathtub and a door knob. Following this, the U.S. Air Force partnered with Balfour Beatty Communities to test an additional nine homes to determine the source(s) of lead exposure.
Why is the process taking so long?
F.E. Warren AFB is breaking new ground. In the past, we didn’t worry about a tub as a possible source of lead exposure. We are working through testing standards and acceptable levels of concern. Currently, these standards don’t exist, so we are using existing standards like levels in blood, on surfaces, and in drinking water. Each time we test it takes 10 to 14 days to get the results and more time to analyze them. We want to ensure we take the appropriate actions based on the results.
Aren’t the homes in Atlas East/West too new to have lead issues in the tubs?
The homes were built in 1999 and BBC refurbished the homes in 2012-2015 but left the original tubs in the homes. Given the era in which these homes were constructed, we are aware that some residences have bathtubs that are constructed of cast iron or steel with a white porcelain or enameled glaze coating. As part of the manufacturing process, lead was used as a common component in the making of tub materials, especially the glaze or enameled protective finish. As long as the integrity of the protective finish is in good condition the research confirms that there is no risk of lead leaching from the materials into the bath water.
Do we know the source of lead in the homes yet?
No, we are still conducting more tests around the original home to see if there is another possible source.
We know there is lead in some tubs and we found lead in the dust around the home, does that mean lead is spreading through the air and other parts of the home?
We are still trying to figure out the sources of dust. Lead in the environment is natural, but it is when it goes above the level of concern we need to take action to remove the source of lead exposure.
Does scrubbing the bathtub introduce the lead dust in the first place? Is it like asbestos once it is free and dust form it will pose a hazard?
We don’t know yet. We are treading on new ground. This is why we are conducting separate tests to determine the why and when. Based on the results, we will update our procedures to ensure your family’s safety. For now, EPA provides guidelines with regards to immediate steps to reduce the risk to lead dust hazard to include keeping painted surfaces clean and free of dust clean floors, window sills, and other surfaces to include tubs weekly. Avoid the use of abrasive cleaners to clean painted surfaces (to include tubs) and use a mop or sponge with warm water and general all-purpose cleaner. If paint chips are found, carefully clean paint chips immediately without creating dust. Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads often during cleaning dusty areas and again afterward.
In some of the homes we only have one bathtub, if they find something wrong what will the USAF/BBC do to take care of the family?
As a reminder, you can take a shower. The only way you can get lead into your system is through ingestion. For grownups, as long as you don’t eat or drink the water from the bathtub, you can take a bath.
It is hard to give little kids showers, what can be done to assist?
One thing that might help is a handheld showerhead to help with showering your child. Another might be a bathtub insert. However, we are open to ideas for better solutions.
Will my home be tested?
On Sept. 17, we started testing all of the homes in Atlas East/West and historic homes on F.E. Warren. We have over 700 tubs to test, so this will take some time. Each result will take 10-14 days to get back. We ask you to prepare your homes for testing. BBC will contact you 48 hours prior to testing.
How do you determine who is first?
Homes with kids 6 years or younger or family members with special needs will be first. Please contact BBC to ensure your family information is correct. We will make the priority list based on this information.
What kind of tests were done on the initial homes?
The tester conducted four types of tests: 1. An X-Ray Florescent or XRF test which determines the percentage of lead in an object. 2. A swipe test which determines the amount of lead dust on a surface. 3. A water test which determines the amount of lead in water. 4. A bath water test which determines the amount of lead in the water during a bath. They will repeat the test for the swipe and the bath water after they clean the surface to take an additional sample. The results of the swipe, water, and bath water test take 10-14 days.
Since we found lead dust in different homes why are surfaces not being tested on all of the homes?
We are still testing to find potential sources of lead exposure. We are going to use the results to direct our testing protocols for sampling in different homes. It depends on the results of the first several homes we test.
How did you find lead in the child? Do I have to be worried about the long-term effects?
We routinely screen children for healthy growth and development. Part of the 12-month wellness check includes routine screening for lead exposure. Lead exposure affects children more than adults because the child’s brain is still developing, which can cause issues when exposed to high levels of lead.
What are the initial results for the blood tests?
To date, the 90th Medical Group has conducted 225 blood lead tests with no actionable results. As a reminder, if you are concerned and your family has not been tested, the medical group offers walk-in lead screenings. It takes 7-10 days for results and all patients are notified of their test results, regardless of the lead level or if that patient’s primary care provider is on or off base.
If people have been exposed to lead, how long will it take to get the lead out of our systems?
As a rough estimate, if you remove the source of exposure so that you don’t continue to ingest lead into your body, the lead in a person’s blood will drop by about half every month.
Do families need to be more concerned if they have a spouse working in a job with a higher risk of lead exposure?
Our bioenvironmental engineering sections test and monitor different work centers to determine preventative measures to ensure safety. They set protocols such as eliminating sources of lead, or require washing hands or leaving work clothes at the work center to lower the exposure to the family. We also regularly test people who work in areas of increased risk and to date have not found any levels of concern.
Lead is a natural substance, so you will encounter it in nature. If you go hiking or go outdoors you will encounter lead in the soil or in rocks you touch. There are things that will cause a higher risk of lead exposure, such as reloading ammunition. If you wash your hands like you are supposed to, it will reduce the risk.
If children are six years or younger, they are more likely to put things in their mouth. They are at a higher risk of lead in their body because their brain and body are still developing. If you are an adult, you are at a lower risk, but if you are in a job or have a hobby which exposes you to lead than your risk increases.
How long does a child have to be exposed to lead to be concerned?
There is not a lot of data on that because it is not ethical to have children ingest lead to see what would happen. The message from the medical community is that no level is considered “safe” for children. If elevated blood levels occur, we want to find the source and remove the child from the source. If you are concerned, please get tested.
If a child is found with elevated lead levels in the blood, will that be documented in medical records in case something happens in the future?
Yes. We will advise the child be removed from the source of lead, we will retest the blood and prescribe treatment to keep the child healthy. All of those steps are documented in the medical record.
If my primary care manager is off base, but a family got their blood test on base how will they find out?
The medical group will contact the family no matter what the results are or who their primary care manager is. The results will take 7-10 days, but because we had a large batch of tests it may take a little more time to get the results.
Will lead testing for adults become part of annual check-ups?
No, it is not standard practice to test all individuals. We focus on individuals with jobs exposing them to higher levels of lead. As part of our normal proactive measures, we use processes to lower lead exposure from shops on base or military occupations which have higher risks of lead exposure. These measures include steps to prevent bringing lead home. As of right now, lead testing is open to everyone. It is important because the results will help us build a database to take further actions.
What were the initial results?
The current lead levels for concern are: Lead level in a child is 5 or higher and 10 or greater for an adult; drinking water is 15, and on floors or surfaces is 40. We are still testing the original homes, and we are still waiting on the analysis.
CDC has established a blood lead level of concern of 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood for children ages 1-5 years. The new lower level for children means that more children likely will be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead. What has not changed is the recommendation for when to use medical treatment for children. These new recommendations do not change the recommendation that chelation therapy is considered when a child is found with a test result of greater than or equal to 45 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood.
However, here are the results we have:
Original home: 1st swipe of the tub was 300 micrograms per foot squared (ug/ft^2), 2nd clean swipe was 81 ug/ft^2, swipe on the floors were 28 ug/ft^2 and 31 ug/ft^2, and 30 ug/ft^2 on a window seal. Other homes: Surface results were 12 ug/ft^2, 38 ug/ft^2, and 48 ug/ft^2, and in standing bath water test results were 3.7 ppb, 5.6 ppb, and 10 ppb. What this means is most of the tests are coming back below the threshold for harm except for the original home.
Are we going to notify past residents of the homes?
Once we finish the testing, we will develop a contact process. We encourage past members of the affected communities to join the @FEWResponse page. We will post the results there. In the meantime, we encourage families to get tested.
What happens if my tub tests above the threshold? What will you do to fix it?
There are three possibilities to address tub issues. First is to reglaze the tub to encapsulate the lead so it will not leach. Second is to refit the tub or put a fitting over the existing tub. Third is to replace the tub. The home and the results will determine which option is the best.
What happens if my tub doesn’t cross the threshold and doesn’t pose a hazard?
We will start a monitoring program for as long as the tub is in the home to ensure it doesn’t cross the threshold. We are still working out the details of the program, but we would ensure it wouldn’t pose future risks to our families.
In the historical homes, we have noticed flaking of lead paint on the porch, what can we do to get it addressed?
In the short term, BBC has a lead-based paint abatement process. Please contact them to get it addressed. For the long-term, BBC will start a repair project to fix the porch issues starting in the spring of 2019.
How long will it take to fix the tub if it tests above the threshold?
We don’t know yet. It will depend on what action they take to fix it. How many they have to do and how long it will take them to find contractors to do it.
Why doesn’t the USAF/BBC just reglaze or fix the issues since we know it will be a problem in the future?
The decision has not been made yet, we are still conducting further tests to determine the best course of action.
At what point do we get to break our leases with no charge to us?
BBC is maintaining the terms of the lease at this time, lease break fees and transfer fees will still apply. BBC will work with each family and encourages you to contact them and tell them your concerns and intentions, so they can work with you for a solution. However, when BBC did find elevated levels of lead in the first home, they moved the family with no fees.
Is it being disclosed about the issue we are addressing now?
BBC will ensure to inform residents of the issues before they sign the lease.
If families have pets that stay in the tub or other places in the homes, are there things to help pet owners?
Families can get their pets tested at the local veterinarian. At the current time, we are not reimbursing families who get their pets tested. The test costs approximately $120. You can call the vet at 307-772-1777 for an appointment.