Service members and their families are exposed to health and safety hazards at base housing worldwide that could be alleviated by inspections and better maintenance, the Defense Department’s Inspector General said in a recent report.
Inspectors found an average of two to three electrical and fire prevention deficiencies per building among the housing it inspected from 2013–16 in six places: the Washington, D.C. region, the U.S. Southeast, South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan and Jordan.In multiple cases, inspectors found high levels of radon gas, which is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other inspections found excessive mold, which can cause respiratory illnesses.
The October report found “systemic weaknesses” in DOD policy, which requires periodic building inspections.
“However, none of these inspections comprehensively examine the effectiveness of facility sustainment processes with respect to the overall health and safety of occupants,” the report said.
Exposed wiring, faulty smoke detectors and ventilation issues were among the most pervasive problems found.
Among all areas inspected, radon exceeding government safety limits was most likely to be found on Okinawa.
In a Stars and Stripes article published last year, service members said they had difficulty going back to at least 2011 in either finding out if their homes exceeded radon standards, or in getting the problems fixed.
Air Force officials on Okinawa said that by last year, homes requiring radon mitigation received service in an average of 442 days.
The IG reports found 145 deficiencies deemed critical at 15 installations inspected in Japan. At 13 South Korean installations, inspectors found 15 critical problems.
Meanwhile, the inspection at a single facility in Jordan found 77 critical deficiencies.
The IG recommended that DOD hire independent inspectors to review facilities at least twice annually. Military bases should also conduct inspections after completing, renovating or performing maintenance work on buildings.
DOD should prioritize hiring qualified inspectors, which the IG cited as a particular problem during its 2013 inspection of two housing areas in Afghanistan.
“We believe that the majority of deficiencies identified in our previous reports could have been avoided,” the report said.
The Army has agreed to the IG’s recommendation and said it would develop a plan within six months. The Department of the Navy also agreed and said it would issue new guidance by Oct. 31.
The Air Force agreed but did not say when or how it would implement IG’s recommendation.