Lead discharged at shooting ranges causes concern

Pollution puts humans, wildlife at risk, critics say

July 23, 2004|By J. Michael Kennedy | J. Michael Kennedy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - The city of Chico, Calif., has set aside $1.6 million to clean up a shooting range, and Santa Cruz, Calif., may have to spend $500,000 to get the lead out.

The culprit: billions of bullets and shotgun pellets that shooters discharge on these and other ranges nationwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people blast tens of millions of pounds of lead each year at the country's 9,000 outdoor ranges.

Roughly 4 percent of all lead produced in the United States - about 80,000 tons a year - becomes bullets and shot.

Plinkers and target shooters fire most of the bullets at nonmilitary shooting ranges. Gun owners and environmentalists worry that lead injures wildlife and reaches drinking water supplies.

At indoor ranges, bullet fragments create lead dust particles that shooters may ingest, according to medical studies.

The U.S. Forest Service has written guidelines about how shooting ranges should be regulated, including a section on the need for environmental protection.

The nonprofit Violence Policy Center issued a scathing report three years ago citing not only lead poisoning but also excessive noise and what it called the "Rambo factor" - people blasting away at targets with rapid-fire, semiautomatic weapons.

In May, federal authorities isused an emergency order to close a popular shooting site near Temecula, Calif., because bullets were striking houses up to two miles away.

Lead is largely inert, but in the body it can lead to learning impairments and neurological damage. When exposed to acidic water or soil, bullets and shot dissolve and can enter soil and reach groundwater.

Storm runoff carries contaminants to streams, wetlands and bays where waterfowl can ingest them. More than a dozen endangered condors, subject of a multimillion-dollar recovery effort in California and the West, have died from ingesting bullets.

Rick Patterson, director of facilities development for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, says the gun industry has researched the issue of lead and shooting ranges.

"We literally wrote the book on the environmental aspects of shooting ranges," he says. The foundation concluded that ranges should not be located near wetlands frequented by birds, and soil should be monitored to ensure it's not too acidic.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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