Coast Guard families moved because of lead contamination

Lead paint discovered at West Chop Lighthouse housing.

One of two now vacant houses at the USCG lighthouse property on West Chop. — Rich Saltzberg

Two Station Menemsha chiefs and their families have vacated their U.S. Coast Guard housing at the West Chop Lighthouse in Vineyard Haven due to lead contamination.

Senior Chief Justin Longval, officer in charge of Station Menemsha, and Chief Robert Parent, his executive officer, along with the spouses and children of both petty officers, comprise the families displaced.

The Coast Guard was alerted to the lead danger, believed to be from paint, at West Chop Lighthouse in late August of this year, according to Chief Public Affairs Specialist David Schuhlein. The families notified the Coast Guard after private testing was done, he said.

“Based on the lead concerns that were brought to our attention, we wanted to move the families as soon as possible,” he said.

“We didn’t need to order the families to leave,” he said. They left on their own volition.

The families were offered temporary lodging — a hotel, he said — but weren’t interested in that option. So they remained while their homes were cleaned, and “provided with protective measures until they could move into more long-term housing.”

The six-member Parent family and the four-member Longval family have been relocated to other properties on the Vineyard.

“We are highly confident the source of the contamination is lead paint,” Schuhlein said said.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin infamous for harming children’s developing brains. No amount of it is considered safe to ingest or inhale.

Schuhlein said the Coast Guard believes buildings on the premises were coated with lead paint sometime after the 1940s, based on historical precedent.

“We’ve definitely have done past mitigations,” he said. He was not immediately able to say when those occured.

Schuhlein pointed out lead testing was done before families moved in.

“The assessment at the time indicated the place was safe for families to live in there,” he said. “Water at house met the acceptable levels for use.”

Given that it’s fenced and gated, Schuhlein said, there’s no need to seal the property with any type of warning.

“At this time we believe there no risk to the public for exposure to lead,” he said, “but we remind the public the property is closed.”

Aids to navigation (ATON) Coast Guard personnel who routinely maintain the lighthouse and its beacon have have been trained to deal with the environment there, and would utilize and wear proper protective equipment and clothing, he said.

Asked if the Coast Guard would aid the families if children have been poisoned, Schuhlein said, “Our families are our top priority.” The Coast Guard would be “extremely” helpful in facilitating resources and medical treatment, he said.