West Chop woes trigger Long Island housing exodus

U.S. Coast Guard investigation into lead continues.

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Both of the U.S. Coast Guard residences at West Chop Lighthouse closed as a result of lead contamination.

Updated Sept. 11

Problems that resulted in two children being exposed to toxic lead at West Chop Lighthouse housing have led to families being moved out of U.S. Coast Guard housing on Long Island, N.Y.

The Long Island situation is directly related to the final action memo that was released in the wake of lead contamination at West Chop. David Schuhlein, chief public affairs specialist for First District Northeast, told The Times the Coast Guard’s nationwide Safe Homes Initiative identified the situation on Long Island.

On Friday, Schuhlein said five families are affected at Station Eaton’s Neck. However, on Tuesday, Coast Guard public affairs specialist Nicole Groll amended that number to three families. These families have been “made aware of the risks” inside the residences, Schuhlein said. They haven’t been ordered to vacate immediately, but have been ordered to find new homes, and have been given a number of options to do so, he said. The families were informed of the potential lead dangers in the residences in early August, he said. No lead poisoning has yet been reported to the Coast Guard by the families, he said.

In West Chop, two children — a 4-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl — showed elevated lead levels in their blood. Those children no longer live at West Chop housing. Their families moved out in September 2018 after they were informed of high lead levels in the summer. The Coast Guard has acknowledged that the families were not properly warned of lead problems at the housing. In 2012, the houses were removed as housing because of lead concerns, but faced with a need for housing because of the Island’s shortage, some mitigation was done.

Capt. Kurt Virkaitis, external affairs director for the First District, previously told The Times, “As a result of what we’ve learned out of West Chop, we’ve started the nationwide Safe Homes Initiative — a servicewide effort to ensure that our older houses are free of environmental hazards, namely lead,” Virkaitis said.

The initiative has identified 67 residences out of 2,600 that require additional lead examination. 

News 12 Long Island reported Lauren Gulick, wife of a USCG employee at Eaton’s Neck and a resident at the station with that employee and an 8-year-old son, called the Coast Guard “negligent.” Gulick said the Coast Guard knew lead was present before her family moved in, and that lead was found in her son’s bedroom, News 12 reported. 

“Gulick says she and her family were living in their new home for almost three months before they were told it was unsafe,” according to the station. 

The Coast Guard cordoned the lighthouse last year, according to Groll.

“As a safety measure we closed the area around the lighthouse in September 2018, following the concerns at West Chop and the visual confirmation that there were paint chips in the soil surrounding the lighthouse,” she wrote. “The adjacent playground was also closed at this time.”

News 12 reported Gulick and her family moved into housing there this summer. 

Groll went on to write, “The source of the lead dust in Eaton’s Neck has not yet been determined … Our first priority is to move the families from the three homes of concern.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), no amount of lead exposure is safe. 

WHO states the following on its site:

 

  • Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.
  • Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney, and bones. It is stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood.
  • Lead in bone is released into blood during pregnancy, and becomes a source of exposure to the developing fetus.
  • There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.
  • Lead exposure is preventable.

Updated to include new information from the Coast Guard, to include local television reporting, and to correct the name of one of the family members affected by the situation at Eaton’s Neck.