Lead Is Poison


Greene County GIS maps clearly show a Rippin Run tributary on the shared farm property, flowing just downhill from the proposed site,. Other branches flow throughout the neighboring residential areas.

Lead Poisoning

While bullet casings and lead from bullets could be removed in a containment system or bullet trap, there are absolutely no guarantees that airborne lead dust can be contained in an outdoor range. Indoor ranges include expensive ventilation systems to trap the poisonous lead in the air.  Airborne lead escaping from the proposed, open-air range could have a devastating impact on many people’s health.

It should be noted that families in the immediate, surrounding area all use wells for their water supply. There is also a creek in close proximity to the proposed range. It’s a tributary of Rippin Run which is in turn a tributary to the Rapidan River.  This  creek is actually just downhill from the site, so it will be collecting lead contaminated runoff from the soil in the surrounding area and passing it on downstream.

The farm property it is proposed to sit on is also running cattle. Lead is the most common form of cattle poisoning. There have been cases of mass cattle euthanasia after they’ve been exposed to lead poisoning from nearby gun ranges. Will those cattle be feeding on the grasses? Will they be drinking the water contaminated with lead? Will they then be going to the market?

From the EPA’s BMP for Lead in Outdoor Shooting Ranges:
Lead oxidizes when exposed to air and dissolves when exposed to acidic water or soil. Clays have a high ionic lead bonding capacity and more surface area to which the lead can bond. Also, groundwater movement in clay is very slow, which increases the contact time for lead to bond to the clay. Low permeability reduces the amount of historical leaching and increases the probability of the presence of basic (pH-increasing) minerals that can precipitate out of solution in groundwater or cause the lead to bond to the clay. All of the basic calcium and related minerals generally will have been removed from the clean silica sand and gravel soils, so the lead in solution in groundwater in these type soils can move long distances (miles) through the ground relatively unchanged.

The Greene Comprehensive Plan (Natural Resources and Environment Section) clearly states that maintaining clean water is a priority. It stands to reason that the range owner and the County may be legally liable for any breach of the containment system or lead dust proliferation.  Will they be willing to take on the responsibility for annual well water checks for the 100+ residents in the surrounding area?

Shooting Ranges Know the Danger

It is well documented for shooting range best practices that people avoid eating at ranges, change their clothes and wash them separately after visiting ranges, and shower afterwards to reduce lead dust contamination. Clearly there is no way to fully contain harmful lead. Lead dust emanating from a 20-lane gun range and residential areas nearby is not a good mix and poses a significant legal risk to both the range and the County.

Greene County officials need to do the right thing and recommend that the proposal be rescinded or outright reject it. There are just too many health, safety, environmental, legal, and quality of life issues associated with a range at this location.

3 thoughts on “Lead Is Poison”

  1. Being Greene County residents, a couple of days ago (Oct 10th), my wife and I visited the owner of the land that wants to install the shooting range here (see article above), and I’ve begun reading up on the subject of potential lead contamination from lead bullets and shot in general, one of which had the portion you cite in your tone box, above. From what I have read online, and personal examination of the land owner’s construction plans for the range, and from what I can see on the maps and from looking around the site on Saturday, it appears that your fears of lead contamination are unrealistic. We found the the design and construction of the range adheres to the EPA’s own Best Practices and that his plans mitigate all the concerns cited above, despite the fact that some of the conditions mentioned above (“airborne lead”, ingestion by cattle and livestock, etc.), would not even exist for this very small and contained shooting range. Aside from the fact that the landowner, being a farmer, would certainly be the the most ardent advocate of keeping his family’s land, groundwater, livestock, and pets safe from potential lead contamination, the very article you cite above indicates that our local “Virginia Red Clay’ soil would seem to be by far the safest soil type to have vs. this type of contamination (see above). Additionally, any spent bullets will be quite well contained within the confines of the range itself, and not scattered out across the owner’s pastureland, and of course, no livestock will be grazing inside the confines of his little 50-yard range. As you can see from the map or viewing the site in person, the homes to the east on the map are uphill from any potential “downstream flow” from the range. In addition, a 5-year study commissioned by the US Forest Service of a much larger, more heavily used range in Blacksburg, VA, found that the lead from shooting does not behave as described in your passages above, due to a number of natural environmental factors present here in Virginia, and even that the controlled environment of a shooting range actually reduces the risk of lead contamination to the public: ]Begin Quotation] “…”We were invited by the U.S. Forest Service to look at the shooting range in the National Forest near Blacksburg.”
    The researchers” survey found 11 metric tons of shot in the shotgun range and 12 metric tons of lead bullets in the rifle range. “These ranges are 10 years old. Most of the lead shot has accumulated on about four or five acres. Some shots have been into the woods, which cover hundreds of acres,” Rimstidt said. [Note that this small 50-yard gun range won’t have any trees to be harvested, either. –EW]
    Professor James Craig, now retired, and Rimstidt looked first at lead corrosion and whether lead is leaching into the water table or streams. “Lead metal is unstable when it is in contact with air and water. It corrodes and forms hydrocerrussite, the white coating seen on old bullets in museums. That slows corrosion,” Rimstidt said.
    However some lead escapes, he said. “But we learned that it is absorbed in the top few inches of soil and does not migrate beyond that,” Rimstidt said. “Lead is not very mobile. It does not wash away in surface or ground water.” […And, clay soils make it even less “mobile” as well. –EW]
    Another finding is that there are large amounts of lead in the trees near the shooting range – but not in a large percentage of the trees, Rimstidt said. “If and when those trees are harvested, they would be contaminated with lead ” [The range is small, and won’t any trees to be harvested. –EW]
    Fisheries and Wildlife professor Pat Scanlon was an investigator on the project until his death in 2003. “He found no evidence that birds were eating shot, but this portion of the research was not completed,” Rimstidt said. “We are not saying that wildlife would not ingest lead, but it does not appear to be a problem on this range. Other shooting ranges may be different.” [it’s doubtful that any migratory waterfowl and other birds, much less cattle, will be eating anything on the range, particularly during shooting hours! –EW]
    Rimstidt will give their recommendations to the Forest Service representatives so they can develop best management practices. “They already knew to put lime on the range to limit corrosion, to take measures to prevent soil erosion, and now, to keep track of the trees if they are cut. They are the experts in management. I will give them the facts, and they will make the decisions,” Rimstidt said.
    Rimstidt”s conclusion is that shooting on controlled ranges reduces the overall risk to the public from lead in the environment.” [End Quotation] I would thus likewise conclude that any fears of lead poisoning of land or ground water in the area around this proposed range are dubious at best. Likewise, the potential for “shooting noise” or “stray bullets” bothering or endangering residents or school children which were said by one TV interviewee to “catch the bus near there” also seem to be equally unfounded. So– I recommend that you visit the land owner’s shop (“Big Iron, Inc.”], just off Highway 33 and situated next to where he intends to install the range, and ask to see his plans and ask about the related anti-noise, lead, and safety features this range will have– we found him very nice and willing to discuss the issues in detail, and we are quite satisfied. Our conclusion is– It’s his land, and he’s got a well-designed range that has any environmental and safety concerns well taken care of, even ones that won’t even exist for his site– So let him build his shooting range, and enjoy it! Although we’ve never been to a meeting of the Counter Supervisors or the Planning Commission before, my wife and I will be at the County Supervisor’s meeting tomorrow night to express our support for allowing this gun range to proceed. I understand that each person asking to speak will be allowed 3 minutes to address the assembly. I encourage all Greene County residents to support the land owner’s plans to build his gun range as well.

    [Sources: Virginia Tech. “Do Lead Bullets Continue To Be A Hazard After They Land?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2004. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041104005801.htm — AND you can see the full text of the citation in the tone box above about potential for shooting range lead contamination and the (relative lack of) mobility in the soil vs. soil types, slope conditions, etc, particularly in clay soils, in a 1996 study: “ENV 02-07 Appendix A Reclamation Manual, Directives and Standards (51) 9/6/96 “Lead on Outdoor Firing Ranges” – available on pdf format on-line. –EW]

    1. Thanks for your comments Ed.

      It was the applicant’s responsibility to answer the various questions for the surrounding community, especially with a high impact facility such as this – Lead is only one of the unanswered questions. Some of the questions wouldn’t even have been posed if our citizens group hadn’t asked them and this proposal was fast-tracked back in March. The plan has evolved fairly significantly over the last several months due to our group’s vocal concerns. But still not nearly acceptable at this location with the current design, as the Board rightfully stated.

      Regarding lead – I hope you can understand why neighbors would be alarmed by what we read in researching lead contamination at gun ranges. To quiet fears, the NRA Range Source Book recommends that the applicant hire a professional engineer to perform an environmental assessment – that was never done.

      Regarding noise, I just can’t believe how anyone can think the noise “study” they submitted is satisfactory. A few spot readings at the far boundary of the property? Really? Where are the 360 degree sound contours like we see in Albemarle County’s Regional Training Center’s acoustic study? And if you’re just going to do spot readings, why not get readings at the boundaries zoned for residential and future growth just 50 feet away? I think you know the answer – the readings would be alarmingly high and flunk the Greene County noise ordinance test. Despite what the applicant said in his closing remarks on the 13th, the NRA Range Source Book (yes, the latest 2012 edition) DOES INDEED state that noise will be an issue within 1/2 mile of an outdoor range. It seemed he skipped over the sections on Site Selection and Community Relations altogether. Regarding the latter, he in fact did not let his neighbors know of these plans as he stated. He had to be pressed to admit that he only contacted one neighbor in our subdivision. Several of us have reached out and were rudely dismissed.

      Lastly, we have the piece of legislation called the Greene County Ordinances. The Board’s decision was ultimately based on them, rightfully so. Once again, the NRA Range Source Book strongly suggests that an applicant hire an attorney to make sure that a range concept/location abides by the local ordinances. He did not do that. (We did.) He was willing to spend 500k on a range but not a comparably small amount on a lawyer’s advice? It would have saved both sided a lot of stress and sleepless nights because this plan was definitely in conflict with the ordinances.

      We could have, as we have continually said, worked together to find an appropriate location. By the way, his family does have a nice piece of land much less impactful to neighbors and much more central to the county. And nearer to the bulk of his petition signers.

  2. It is not just annual well water checks for the 100+ residents in the surrounding area. There should be a remediation plan in place if the water will ever be contaminated. I think this point was very convincing because the responsibility of contaminating the ground and well water will be huge, and the remediation plan may have to include the cost of building city water supply lines in this area.

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A blog to document the many reasons why a shooting range proposal in Greene County, Virginia should be rejected due to its location.