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Lead Contamination in Shooting Ranges

August 19, 2014

Shooting Ranges: The Lead Contamination Danger

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that lead contamination is a nasty business, but a little repetition is usually worth its nuisance when framed in a new context.

Lead can be a pretty scary element. Prolonged exposure to lead contamination leads to an accumulation inside the body, which can, in turn, cause lead poisoning. The symptoms of lead poisoning are serious for adults, and can include memory loss, high blood pressure, miscarriage or premature birth, and a decline in mental functioning. But lead poisoning symptoms in children (who are far more vulnerable) are especially grievous, and may include significant learning difficulties, developmental delays, hearing loss, and sluggishness. Full-on lead poisoning is clearly an alarming diagnosis, but even small amounts of lead can have a negative impact on human health.

Of course, lead is also very common. It is naturally-occurring, and continues to see widespread usage in products. Thankfully, the products that carry the most risk for human ingestion or inhalation (namely paint, gasoline, and pipes) have been restricted by many – if not most – governments across the globe.

Contamination, however, remains a notable source of risk. The biggest contributing industries, such as mining, smelting, demolition, construction, and manufacturing, are well-known – but there’s also a potential contributor that’s mostly overlooked: the outdoor shooting range.

Outdoor shooting ranges are heavily reliant on lead products: bullets. Bullets are usually either pure lead, or made up of lead alloys. Contamination occurs as a result of the spent ammunition, including bullets or shotgun pellets fired into backstops. Lead ammunition is so prevalent in outdoor shooting ranges that Sports Afield, the self-proclaimed ‘World’s Premier Hunting Adventure Magazine’, has been quoted as saying, “the quantity of recreational lead deposited in the environment is enormous. For example, at some trap and skeet ranges, lead shot densities of 1.5 billion pellets per acre have been recorded. That’s 334 pellets in every square foot.”

All of those spent munitions can cause lead contamination in the surrounding environment. They can pollute the neighboring waterways, poison wildlife, and contaminate groundwater and wells. While there are no environmental regulations that specifically focus on outdoor shooting ranges, lawsuits have been filed against range operators citing violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Outdoor range operators are not legally required to dispose of spent ammunition, though this is anything but a reasonable option; the blatant absence of a waste management system leaves them vulnerable to costly lawsuits. If the operator chose to dispose of the spent ammunition, the waste would be handled like any other solid waste: in accordance with its characteristics. If the waste exhibited a hazardous waste characteristic, such as toxicity (as is the case with lead), it would need to be disposed of as hazardous waste.

Just as with leaded gasoline, paint, and pipes, lead ammunition may one day see stricter regulation. In the meantime, outdoor range operators are left to handle this hazard with no formal guidance. If you have further questions, have lead contamination issues you would like to see remedied, or need assistance with hazardous waste disposal, give Hazardous Waste Experts a call today at 800-936-2311.

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.