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NAPLES, Italy — U.S. Navy officials have put four towns temporarily off-limits to new rental leases because water tests turned up the presence of contaminants.

However, Americans already living in those towns will not be forced to move out, Navy officials said.

On Wednesday, the Navy announced a "New Lease Suspension Zone" policy, which states that personnel will not be able to move into homes in the three "zones," which were identified as potentially unsafe because of higher-than-acceptable levels of volatile organic compounds, Navy officials said. VOCs are usually byproducts of industrial cleaning solvents.

The three zones include the towns of Villa Literno, Casal di Principe, Marcianise and Arzano. Roughly 300 Americans live in the zones.

Additionally, the Navy announced that residents living in 11 homes in Casal di Principe are being required to move after tests uncovered unacceptable levels of VOCs in the town’s drinking water.

Rear Adm. David Mercer, commander of Navy Region Europe, held an "all hands" meeting Wednesday to update the base community — a public meeting Stars and Stripes was barred from covering.

Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a Navy region spokeswoman, said Mercer barred the press because he thought people would feel more free to voice their concerns if external media were not present.

One officer left the meeting feeling more angry than informed. He lived in Casal di Principe for three years but moved on base several months ago because of health concerns over living in town, he said. The officer said Navy officials have refused to give him information on whether his former residence was even tested, much less what results might be.

"This is ridiculous. They’re not telling us everything. I want full disclosure," said the officer, who asked that his name not be published for fear of reprisal from his command. "They won’t provide details: They won’t give you the data, the facts, clear information. … We want the facts. Don’t sanitize it. I just want to be able to tell my family whether everything is OK."

Generally, residents shouldn’t be denied access to that information, Snyder said. "We’ll have to take a look at this. I’m not familiar with that issue."

The suspension policy — for which the Navy even assigned it the acronym NLSZ — means the housing office temporarily will halt showing homes in those zones and prospective tenants will need to look for places to live in "areas with evidence of low contamination" in the Naples region, according to the press release.

It also means that 34 families in the precontract phase of leasing homes in the "zones" must start the house-hunting process over and look elsewhere, the release states.

Petty Officer 1st Class Ethan Gurney lives "right smack in the middle" of one of the zones, but said he isn’t worried about his health and doesn’t think the Navy should move those already established in their homes.

The Casal di Principe resident said his landlord recently switched his water supply from well water to city water. Most contaminants were linked to well water. Gurney drinks, cooks and brushes his teeth with bottled water.

"I think [Navy officials are] being realistic as far as explaining to us the scope of what they are doing and are being as forthright as they can be," Gurney said. "I hope people don’t think that the sky is falling. … [Officials] are erring on the side of caution."

Not all homes evaluated in the public health assessment within the areas tested above acceptable limits. "[B]ut until unacceptable areas can be better defined, prudent action is to suspend all new leases," the Navy’s release states.

"This action is consistent with our deliberate and conservative approach concerning the health and well-being of U.S. personnel. Because our approach is very conservative, there is no cause for alarm or justification to conduct mass relocations of current residents."

In February, the Navy launched a multimillion-dollar health assessment to determine if living in Naples poses a health hazard to members and their families. The study, led by the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center out of Virginia, includes assessing the quality of tap water, soil and soil gases.

As part of its first phase of the long-term analysis, the Navy sampled water and soil at 166 off-base homes. Of those homes sampled, nearly one-third indicated the presence of bacteria in the water, including total and fecal coliform.

A map outlining the zones is posted at the NSA Naples housing office and on NSA Naples’ Web site at www.nsa.naples.navy.mil/risk.

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