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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — When residents move into base housing at Yongsan, they’re advised that lead-based paint might have been used years ago in some of the decades-old housing.

And after a resident said he discovered high lead levels in his South Post quarters when he tested with “home-based” kit recently, commander Col. Ronald Stephens ordered an official test be conducted.

The results, returned from a certified South Korean lab on Monday, showed “potentially unsafe levels” of lead-based paint were present in the man’s home, officials said.

U.S. officials consider anything above 5,000 parts-per-million potentially unsafe; the Yongsan house showed levels between 6,000 and 35,000 parts-per-million, officials confirmed during an interview in Stephens’ office Wednesday.

Stephens has now ordered samples to be taken from seven other homes across the installation.

“It’ll take us about a week or 10 days to get those results back,” said Tillman D. Moses, deputy garrison commander.

Since the testing is “radical,” going all the way down to the wood, Stephens can pretty much predict the results.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they came back with lead,” he said.

Stephens gathered his deputy, Engineering Chief Bryan Dorrough, Environmental Chief Daryl Dempsey and Director of Public Works Michael Chung to discuss the results and their impact with Stars and Stripes as part of an information campaign to educate residents.

People are alerted to the possibilities of lead-based paint upon arrival, Stephens said. Other members of his staff said the residents are asked to sign forms stating they’ve been briefed on potential lead-based paint usage in past years.

“But what we’re trying to do is make the community aware lead-based paint exists, you need to be aware of it and we’re trying to make sure that the families remain safe,” Stephens said of this week’s push following the lab results.

He stressed the goal was to alert the families.

“We’re not hiding anything because we want to make sure the community knows,” Stephens said. “If you don’t address the issue, the issue turns into something it’s really not.”

The colonel said the resident who tested his own home — a man with engineering experience — had checked the lead-paint levels in his quarters.

“It’s one of those things when people come to us,” Stephens said. “It raises an issue that we’ve all kind of gotten complacent with. ... We’ve kind of set back and ... not talked about every day.”

In 1978, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission lowered the legal maximum lead content in paint. South Korea, however, does not use those standards and contractors continued using lead-based paint in U.S. base construction projects here until the late 1990s, garrison officials said. With many garrison buildings constructed in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, that equates to decades of possible lead-base paint layers.

Lead-based paints most often comprise the acrylics used on things like window sills, doors and door frames, stairs, railings, banisters and porches, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brochure provided to base residents.

If the paint is not peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking or damaged then residents should have no problems, garrison officials maintained.

The biggest concern is for families with children, since the tots tend to spend most of their time putting things in their mouths or even chewing on things like window sills.

“Actually a good plan is interim controls,” said Environmental Chief Dempsey. “Because the dangers, or potential dangers, of lead-based paint are due to deteriorated paint.”

Dempsey said as long as there is a “continuous surface,” there is no problem.

If there is exposed paint — the key is to contact garrison officials as quickly as possible, officials stressed.

“If you had exposed, deteriorated paint … the best thing would to be to come along and repair it, to put some paint over it, and then over that, to put an encapsulate — which is a permanent solution,” Dempsey said.

He said that method has been used a few times on the garrison.

Dorrough, the engineering chief, said his personnel take advantage of the time between residents to inspect the quarters for any problems.

“And any flaking or chipped paint … we’re going to have a contractor take care of those places,” he said.

Anyone with questions about this issue should call DSN 738-8234.

“Be aware that it’s out there, don’t be afraid of it, just know if you have problems we will fix them,” Stephens said.

Lead factsLead exposure can harm young children and babies even before they are born.Even children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.You can get lead in your body by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips containing lead.You have many options for reducing lead hazards. In most cases, lead-based paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family.ContaminationPeople can get lead in their body if they:

Put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths.Eat paint chips or soil that contains lead.Breathe in lead dust (especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces).Lead is even more dangerous to children than adults because:Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them.Children’s growing bodies absorb more lead.Children's brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.Lead dangersIf not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:

Damage to the brain and nervous systemBehavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity)Slowed growthHearing problemsHeadachesLead is also harmful to adults.

Adults can suffer from:Difficulties during pregnancyOther reproductive problems (in both men and women)High blood pressureDigestive problemsNerve disordersMemory and concentration problemsSource: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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