Recent water test results: questions, answers from town hall

ANSBACH, Germany (Nov. 16, 2016) – U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach held a town hall Tuesday at Bismarck Theater concerning the recent water testing results taken from unoccupied housing at Katterbach and Bleidorn barracks.

Because the method of testing was meant for occupied housing units, the results from the unoccupied housing water samples showed higher than acceptable levels of lead, most likely inaccurately.

Col. Benjamin C. Jones, USAG Ansbach commander, spoke to the town hall attendees about the testing.

The Army began this effort in 2013 as a proactive response to information suggesting water faucets used for drinking and food preparation at facilities where children age six and younger, who are a sensitive population, could receive a significant amount of drinking water be tested individually for lead.

Garrisons across the Army, including USAG Ansbach, identified high-risk facilities, which are defined as those that provide drinking water to the population most sensitive to lead exposure, both children ages 6 and younger and expectant mothers. The garrisons were then to send sampled drinking water to the U.S. Army Public Health Command for centralized analysis.

Also as part of the operations order, the USAG Ansbach Directorate of Public Works tested 20 percent of government-owned Army Family Housing units.

“DPW, when they received the OPORD to achieve that 20 percent testing, knowing that they had more than 20 percent unoccupied quarters, they decided only to test the unoccupied quarters so they didn’t have to bother the residents in the occupied housing,” said Jones. “We ended up with a flawed testing methodology.”

DPW performed the tests according to the guidance in the operations order. Within the operations order there was no differentiation made between sampling methods for occupied and unoccupied housing. Those tests, however, are designed to function correctly and deliver accurate results for homes with people living there, not for vacant locations.

Jones explained at the town hall that when water is left in the pipes, as it was at the unoccupied locations, pollutants are likelier to leach into the water. Without flushing out the pipes, that water is likely to skew high in its lead readings.

“We were very surprised to see the high levels of lead that came back in those tests,” said Jones. “Despite the expectation now that the testing methodology was flawed and that the results were high because of that, we are treating this as if we got a positive test for lead in our housing. We want to be as cautious as we can and ensure that everyone is going to be safe and that the drinking water is going to be safe.”

Specifically the garrison means to thoroughly test the drinking water of those in the high-risk group: children 6 years and younger and pregnant women.

The garrison performs sampling of water on a routine basis, and, according to a statement released Friday following the high test results, Jones made clear that the Army “is absolutely committed to the health and safety of Soldiers, Family members, and the civilian and contractor workforce.”


Action, further testing

Upon learning of the sampling results, the garrison team – in close coordination with U.S. Army Environmental Command, Regional Health Command Europe, and 12th Combat Aviation Brigade – has acted to ensure those in Army Family Housing have safe drinking water.

The garrison began distributing bottled water at the Katterbach Kaserne fire station, a location that is open 24/7. Furthermore, 12th CAB provided three potable water tanks – also called “water buffalos” – to potentially affected housing areas.

The garrison has also requested expedited testing from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The garrison retrieved 1,000 empty test bottles for testing the water, which they are making available to building coordinators, residents.

Residents can collect bottles from the Bismarck Kaserne DPW Housing office, Room 9, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to instructions, residents must let water sit for eight hours, waiting overnight and collecting water samples first thing in the morning.

Before opening up the town hall to questions and answers, Jones addressed a concern that occupied housing may have been included in this round of tests.

“Preventive Medicine as well as DPW do routine testing throughout the year, and in September Preventive Medicine was doing testing,” said Jones. “There were 26 different locations tested, which was across all our installations.”

The Public Health Command performs water testing as part of its tri-annual review. This is separate from the testing DPW performed. Jones had available the results from those tests. All 26 samples from that test indicated the drinking water to be safe.

“USAG Ansbach’s water system has always been in compliance with lead tests. Previous lead testing, conducted garrison-wide in 2013, revealed no elevated lead levels whatsoever,” according to a statement released Thursday on the water testing issue. “A second garrison-wide test conducted in September of this year also revealed no levels above the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Regular ongoing testing is in accordance with host-nation-specific environmental compliance requirements and a combination of U.S. federal and Department of Defense standards to ensure the safety of all community members.”

To help answer questions at the town hall, several subject matter experts were on hand, including Lynn Daniels, environmental lead for the garrison; Walt Mattil, director of Public Works; Maj. Luke Mease, chief of preventive medicine for Bavaria Medical Activity; and Lt. Col. Aristotle Vaseliades, commander of Ansbach Army Health Clinic.

Mattil began the discussion with community members, who had available the results of DPW’s annual water quality review from 2015; those tests, which were taken in August 2015, showed the garrison met the governing standards for Germany.

Though the high readings of lead could be attributable to incorrect testing procedures, the garrison was unwilling to take that risk, said Mattil. That is why they procured bottled water, made it available 24/7 at the fire station, and drove to Landstuhl to retrieve testing kits.

“We have enough bottles to sample every single occupied residence on Bleidorn and Katterbach,” said Mattil. “We are procuring more bottles so we can do Urlas and Barton.

“The priority of sampling is every individual who lives in quarters on Katterbach or on Bleidorn,” continued Mattil. “I would like you at some point today or tomorrow to come to housing. They will issue you three bottles with some very, very simple instructions on how you collect the samples. You will return the bottles back to us.”

USAG Ansbach results are to be prioritized, and to expedite the process, DPW will drive the samples directly to Landstuhl for testing. So as not to overwhelm the labs at Landstuhl, DPW is seeking approval to have testing done by German labs.

“We’ll turn those in and get you the results as quickly as we can,” said Mattil. “We can do that by notifying you by phone. If you physically want to see the results in hard copy, we can do that as well. It is whatever you prefer to assure you that the water results we have – that we get back from Landstuhl – are safe for consumption for you and your Family.”

“Go home to your friends and Family and let them know that we are testing the water in Family Housing,” said Lynn Daniels, supervisory environmental engineer at DPW. “To make this successful and to help us get this done, we need you to spread the word. We don’t have a huge turnout, but I know word of mouth helps a lot.”

Residents and building coordinators wishing to perform tests of their water can pick up testing kits at the following:

Housing Office at Bismarck Kaserne
Room 9
7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
09802-83-3422 or DSN 467-3422

“We want to reassure you that we take your Family’s health and safety as our number one priority here in the garrison,” said Jones at the conclusion of the town hall. “That’s why we are taking this issue as seriously as we are and trying to get this retesting done as quickly as possible.”


Questions, answers

Below is a summary of questions asked and their answers during the town hall.

Q: What is the timeline for return of the new round of water testing results?
A: Though laboratory procedures are out of the garrison’s control, DPW hopes to expedite results by driving samples directly to the lab.
“By us driving them, we’re hoping we can get them back in seven days or less,” said Mattil.

Q: Were occupied residences part of these testing results?
A: “We continually do water testing throughout the year by Public Health Command and DPW,” said Mattil. “In fact, you are tested more frequently if you live on post than if you live on the economy.”
These tests were performed independently of the recent round of testing that took place at unoccupied Army Family Housing units that resulted in high readings of lead.
Results from those tests were available at the town hall and available by request by calling the Directorate of Public Works at Bismarck Kaserne at 09802-83-3422 or DSN 467-3422.

Q: Should building coordinators or residents pick up testing kits?
A: Either the building coordinator or the resident can pick up the testing kits from Room 9 of the DPW Housing office at Bismarck Kaserne from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Tell your building coordinator that you’ve already done it, that you’ve taken care of it,” Mattil advised residents. “If you want him or her to take care of it, please ask him or her to do so.

Q: There is a water tank currently parked in front of a building in Bleidorn Kaserne. Is this in connection with the current situation?
A: The 12th CAB provided three potable water tanks to affected areas.
Residents can pick up bottled water from the Katterbach Kaserne fire station, but they can also refill their empty bottles from the “water buffalos.”
“If you want to bring a milk jug or something else too, that’s fine,” said Mattil. “Whatever you need to do, we’ll help you do.”

Q: Is water available to all residents in affected areas or to only those in high risk categories (Families with children 6 and younger and expectant mothers)?
A: “We don’t want to exclude anyone,” said Mattil. “We would hope that those in the high risk categories will use that water. If someone feels that they want to make sure until they get their results back, that’s not a problem. I would ask that you not take more than you actually need, and that you use the water from the water buffalos as well.”

Q: What is the procedure if the new samples come back positive for lead?
A: If the test comes back positive again, the hydrant or point of delivery that was tested will be put out of service, according to Mattil. DPW then investigates what the source of the contaminant is.
In the three-sample test, the results often indicate the source of the contaminant. If the first result comes back positive, but the following samples come back negative for lead, it indicates that the contaminant is coming from the spigot issuing the water. This was the case for most of the samples taken from the unoccupied housing.
In the likelihood that it is the spigot, it must be replaced, said Mattil.
“We’ll take that first step to replace that spigot,” said Mattil. “You still can’t drink from it if we get a negative result back. We’ll take another test immediately. We’ll sample, and we’ll go from there.”

Q: What fail safes have been in place to ensure the potable water tanks have not been contaminated already? Are they being serviced and inspected?
A: The potable water tanks had been certified last week.
Mease, as the chief of preventive medicine for Bavaria, oversees water testing that happens at USAG Ansbach.
“Every operational unit has environmental science Soldiers that are trained and tested in [ensuring the potable water tanks are safe for use],” said Mease. “If these are in service, they will have been tested by, checked by, and serviced by these Soldiers to ensure that they are good to go.
“As regards to the lead,” continued Mease, “the water that’s in the water buffalos is coming straight from the water treatment facility, as opposed to these positive lead tests which unfortunately had been sitting in these pipes for up to or more than a year. But what’s in the water buffalo is coming straight from the treatment facility and should be essentially lead-free.”

Q: Are the water testing kits available from the DPW Housing office then returned to the same DPW Housing Office?
A: Yes. Water testing kits can be returned directly to the same location they were picked up from: Bismarck Kaserne DPW Housing office, Room 9, open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Q: Have other facilities with high-risk populations (the schools, the Child Development Center) been tested as well?
A: They were tested [earlier in the year] in a separate sampling test. Those tests showed the water to be safe.

Q: Is there a cut-off date for turning the bottles in?
A: There is no deadline, but Mattil urged residents to perform the tests and return them as quickly as possible.
“I’m hoping everyone understands the sense of urgency, and we’ll do this as quickly as we can,” said Mattil. “As quickly as you can get them back is as quickly as we can flip them and get the results back.”

Q: This round of testing applied to Army Family Housing. Are barracks and other buildings tested as well?
A: Soldiers are not specifically within the high-risk categories, but testing occurs across the garrison on a tri-annual basis.
Previous lead testing, conducted garrison-wide in 2013, revealed no elevated lead levels whatsoever. A second garrison-wide test conducted in September of this year also revealed no levels above the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Regular ongoing testing is in accordance with host-nation-specific environmental compliance requirements and a combination of U.S. federal and Department of Defense standards to ensure the safety of all community members.
The current testing results are the result of a separate test.
“This testing for potential lead applies to high-risk residences, which have pregnant women or small children,” said Mattil. “Sure, children don’t spend a lot of time drinking or brushing their teeth from the hangar, but you also do have pregnant women that go to the hangar, and they are pregnant and they are service members, and that’s where they work.”

Q: Will water purifiers work to decontaminate potentially contaminated water?
A: Water filters available on the economy at home improvement stores will remove lead contaminants, according to Mattil. For further guidance, call environmental protection the Directorate of Public Works at 09802-83-2158 or DSN 467-2158 or 09802-83-3422 or DSN 467-3422.

Q: What symptoms in young children result from lead contamination?
A: Lead exposure – at the levels detected in the unoccupied building – may be detected through screening or environmental testing, said Mease.
“We expect that most kids would be asymptomatic – you wouldn’t notice anything,” said Mease. “The concern with lead in kids is fairly subtle, and it’s essentially in brain development. When kids are developing, the barrier between the brain and the blood is not quite complete, so lead can get into the brain easier in kids, particularly under 6. The biggest concern is at 12 to 36 months. And it can cause subtle difficulties in learning.”
For further information about lead exposure, visit the following web pages:
www.cdc.gov/lead/ (CDC Lead Information)
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/4/1036.full (American Academy of Pediatrics Policy on Lead Exposure in Children)
http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp.asp?id=96&tid=22 (Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, Profile for Lead)
www.epa.gov/lead (EPA Lead Information)
www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water (EPA Lead in Drinking Water Information)

If parents or guardians have further questions or concerns for the health of their children in light of the recent test results, they can contact the Ansbach Army Health Clinic at Urlas Community. Their hours are Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Their general information and appointment line is 06371-9464-3600 or DSN 590-3600.

Q: How is this message getting out?
A: A fragmentation order was published on Thursday to the 12th CAB. Otherwise, DPW will work with the Public Affairs Office to get word out through all available means to as many individuals as possible.

Q: Do the results indicate the contaminant is at the faucet?
A: That is what they indicate. When the first result comes back positive, but the following samples come back negative for lead, it indicates that the contaminant is coming from the spigot issuing the water, which was the case for most of the samples taken from the unoccupied housing.

Q: What is the procedure for sampling barracks?
A: “The testing of every spigot in the barracks is not part of this because the Army has not deemed them in the high-risk category,” said Mattil. “The barracks and the other work spaces like the schools, the dining facility, etcetera, are covered under that tri-annual testing. We don’t sample every single room, we sample according to the Public Health Command’s cross-section of what they test.”
Mease made the distinction of why barracks are not high-risk and Army Family Housing was.
“The level of lead that would make a Soldier sick or have any effect on an adult is much, much higher than what would concern us about a child,” said Mease. “As we develop and the blood-brain barrier becomes fully intact, the level of lead that would be of concern for a Soldier or an adult would be much higher than it would be for a child.
“We want to be very careful with these kids,” continued Mease. “We want these kids to learn and have full neuro-development.”

Q: Could pregnant Soldiers living in barracks use the testing kits to test their rooms?
A: Yes, concerned Soldiers in the high-risk categories can pick up water testing kits and return them directly to Bismarck Kaserne DPW Housing office, Room 9, open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Q: Could lead exposure effect pets?
A: Signs of lead intoxication in animals can be subtle and non-specific, but pet owners may pick up on odd symptoms that warrant further investigation by a veterinarian. Signs of lead intoxication in dogs can include anorexia (not eating at all), vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anxiety or restlessness, blindness, convulsions, hysterical barking, and even aggression. Cats can exhibit anorexia, vomiting, and possibly seizures. Pet birds can exhibit several similar symptoms as well.
USAG Ansbach’s Veterinary Treatment Facility can help address these concerns with a physical exam and simple blood testing. If you’re concerned your pet may be showing these or any other symptoms, please call them at 09802-83-3179 or DSN 467-3179. You can also email them at usarmy.ansbach.vtf@mail.mil, or message them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AnsbachVTF.


If parents or guardians have further questions or concerns for the health of their children in light of the recent test results, they can contact the Ansbach Army Health Clinic at Urlas Community. Their hours are Mondays through Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Their general information and appointment line is 06371-9464-3600 or DSN 590-3600.

If you are concerned about the possibility of lead exposure at your Army Family Housing resident, please visit the DPW Housing Office at Bismarck Kaserne, Room 9, from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. to pick up a testing kit today.

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