Shuttered gun range in S Sacramento park leaked toxic lead dust

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 5:29 AM

Mangan Rifle and Pistol Range in S Sacramento tells only a tiny portion of the story. The city-owned gun range in Mangan Park, on thirty-fourth Ave close Freeport Boulevard, close down more than fifteen months ago, and a “temporarily closed” note on the door is the only notice neighboring residents and park users received.

Shuttered gun range in S Sacramento park leaked toxic lead dust

sA note taped to a side door of the James G. Mangan Rifle and Pistol Range in S Sacramento tells only a tiny portion of the story.

The city-owned gun range in Mangan Park, on thirty-fourth Ave close Freeport Boulevard, close down more than fifteen months ago, and a “temporarily closed” note on the door is the only notice neighboring residents and park users received.

The city closed the indoor range because it was polluted by hazardous levels of lead dust after decades of operation. But it's never cleaned that toxic dust from the interior of the shuttered range, nor from the roof, according to interviews and internal city documents. Environmental scientists specializing in lead contamination declare the tainted particles that remained should've been cleaned long ago, and may pose an environmental hazard for park users and residents in the surrounding neighborhood.

The scientists interviewed by The Sacramento Bee said soil in the surrounding park and neighborhood should've been certified at the time the facility closed, to look if the toxic particles had spread through wind and rain. The city failed to do any soil testing until April one, after The Bee began asking questions for this story.

In the decade before its closure, the city certified for lead contamination before and after cleanings at the gun range that took space a few times a year. More than twenty tests conducted interior the range between two thousand six and two thousand fourteen found lead in nearly every corner of the building, from the firing range floor to the kitchen, that registered over levels defined by the CA Dept of Public Health as hazardous to human health. The levels measured were sometimes hundreds of times greater than the state’s hazard threshold. In some cases, the tests found elevated lead levels both before and after the cleanings.

The gun range operated for years with a dated ventilation system that failed to filter that contaminated dust properly, according to a two thousand twelve assessment by an exterior consultant. In March two thousand twelve, TRS Range Services, hired by the city to review gun range operations, reported that the ventilation system at the range appeared to be spewing unfiltered air from interior the building into the environment.

The first record of the city testing the range exterior for lead was more than two years later, in July two thousand fourteen, and the results were striking: Two different roof vents had lead readings that registered more than seventy times higher than Dept of Public Health hazard limits, according to city test records obtained through the state’s Public Records Act.

An environmental consultant conducted another circular of tests in November two thousand fourteen that found elevated readings on three different parts of the roof and throughout the building’s interior.

With an internal city audit underway, City Manager John Shirey ordered the gun range closed on Christmas Eve two thousand fourteen. The range still stands a few hundred feet from dozens of homes and in the center of a park used by families and youth soccer leagues – untouched and likely in the same toxic state, according to environmental scientists from the Univ of CA who reviewed the tests and records obtained by The Bee.

While there is number proof the lead particles have traveled into the park or neighborhood, the experts argue that, given the extent of the contamination and danger posed by lead, the city should've cleaned the range months ago, notified park users and residents of the contamination, and certified the soil in the surrounding area.

“If you don’t spotless this space up and you don’t check the soil afterward, you're just leaving a problem that could be distant larger,” said Peter Green, a civil and environmental engineering researcher at the Univ of California, Davis, whose specialties comprise lead and mercury contamination in urban areas. “Either they spotless it up or they're at risk of later consequences. The effects of lead have been clear for forty years; lead isn't a new, surprising problem. And this is right amongst people.”

“It’s really unforgivable,” Green said.

Lead contamination is a common risk in indoor firing ranges, a byproduct of the toxic vapor and dust generated by the firing of ammunition. An investigation by The Seattle Times in two thousand-fourteenth found that thousands of shooters, gun range employees and family members of those who spent time in ranges around the country have been contaminated with lead “due to destitute ventilation and contact with lead-coated surfaces” at the facilities.

In an interview with The Bee in March, Sacramento city parks director Christopher Conlin initially said the city didn't map to test the soil close the range “based on the fact it’s probably beautiful minimal amounts (of lead) that’s in the soil.” He said lead also could've leached into the soil from other sources, including lead paint from the gun range building or from chemicals released from nearby Sacramento Executive Airport.

Two weeks later, the city reversed course. City spokeswoman Marycon Razo said Friday that soil sampling had been conducted around the range building on April one and the results of that testing were expected sometime this week.

During the March interview, Conlin said the city had number immediate plans to spotless the gun range. Instead, he said, the Dept of Parks and Recreation planned to ask the City Council for $fifty.000 in the budget year beginning July one to expand a “master plan” for Mangan Park, including a possible reuse or rehabilitation of the building.

The development of the master map is expected to get months. After it's complete, he said, his dept would ask the City Council for funding to complete possible changes to the park and gun range. That won’t happen until two thousand seventeen at the earliest.

City executive acknowledge the interior of the gun range is contaminated and should be kept off-limits to the public. But Conlin argued it's safer to leave the dust on the roof alone than to delete it, a position one of the scientists interviewed by The Bee said has some merit. Conlin said it'd not be an efficient utilize of taxpayer dollars to spotless the range now, before a master map for the park is finished.

“I think the genuine question is: spotless it to do what?” said Conlin, who took office in February, more than a year after the range was close down. “As it sits right now, it’s not doing any damage to anybody because nobody’s going in there. If you spotless it, if you spend that money, to do what? To simply hold it locked up until we determine what we’re going to do with it?”

Asked whether the city had a responsibility to inform park users and nearby residents about the toxic state of the gun range and lead levels recorded on the roof, Conlin replied, “We’ll get a see and create an assertion as to whether we necessity to do that. If experts tell us we ought to post something, we could post something.”

For now, the only sign that the range is closed is a sheet of paper taped to a side door that reads “MANGAN RANGE IS TEMPORARILY CLOSED” and provides the title and phone no of a city employee who helped oversee its operation.

Neighbors weren’t told about contamination

Built in the early one thousand nine hundred sixty, the James G. Mangan Rifle and Pistol Range for years was a favorite destination for law enforcement, security firms and gun enthusiasts.

Sacramento Executive Airport borders the park to the south. To the north, directly across thirty-fourth Avenue, is the neighborhood of Mangan Park. It's a diverse area of working-class families, where modest homes selling for $200.000 fill a grid of noiseless streets.

Two of the neighborhood’s homes are directly across thirty-fourth Ave from the gun range, less than one hundred twenty-five feet away; more than 50 extra homes are within five hundred feet of the portion of the range roof where lead dust was found. The range is two hundred fifty feet from a soccer field that hosts youth games and tournaments, one hundred twenty-five feet from a picnic area, two hundred twenty-five feet from a public pool and four hundred fifty feet from a playground.

Some residents said they were upset they were never notified of the polluted state of the range.

Heman Smith’s residence is the closest to the gun range, standing at the corner of thirty-fourth Ave and Bradd Way. He and his fiancée moved there in two thousand-fourth and raised two daughters, both of whom are in college. Smith said he takes care of his third daughter, who is thirty-two and suffered a traumatic injury at birth that left her unable to walk or talk.

Smith, sixty-one, said the range was a excellent neighbor; its clientele of law enforcement officers and security guards kept him at ease. More than a year ago, he noticed the echo of gunshots had stopped. The city never told him why.

“It could've been favourable to tell us if it'd to do with our health,” he said.

Still, he said he isn’t overly concerned. “I assume the city fulfilled its responsibility to hold us safe,” he said.

Mayra Arellano, twenty, and her family have lived across the Str from Smith for five years. She said the city has communicated regularly about changes planned at Mangan Park or when the park’s pool was to close down because of budget shortfalls. “They tell us everything, but I didn’t even know (the range) was closed,” she said. “It’s weird.”

Latest summer, the family had a seventh birthday party for Arellano’s sister, Marisol, in a picnic area adjacent to the gun range. Asked if she was concerned about the health impacts of living so near to the range, she replied, “Well, I am now.”

Nikiya Massie has lived on nearby Nolder Way since Aug with her four children, ages nine, twelve, fourteen and fifteen. She said her children play in Mangan Park two or three times a week when the weather is nice, but that she’ll tell them to avert the area from now on.

“We should've been notified,” she said. “Any kind of contamination is dangerous. My kids have been going over there for months. It'd have been simple to tell us with social media.”

In addition to years of test records showing lead contamination, top parks executive were warned by environmental consultants in two thousand-fourteenth that the Mangan gun range contained risky levels of lead dust, according to reports reviewed by The Bee.

Contamination interior the range was referenced in two thousand-fourteenth and two thousand fifteen in emails exchanged among parks dept managers, including then-director Jim Combs, as well as in emails sent to City Corridor staffers and gun range users. But the potential impact on the exterior environment was seldom discussed. That’s despite warnings from consultants hired by the city that the pollution wasn't confined to the building’s interior.

In two thousand-twelfth, the city hired TRS Range Services to evaluate the design of the gun range and evaluate its machinery. In its subsequent report, the firm stated that the building’s “exhaust fans, when operating, show up to vent indoor air directly to the exterior without any filtration.” TRS urged the city to address the areas of the roof close the vents where tests later discovered hazardous levels of lead contamination.

“If air from the range is vented externally, it should be well-known that the area around the external vent will be contaminated with lead dust,” TRS wrote. “Appropriate measures should be taken to (ensure) this area is treated as contaminated.”

The TRS inspector “visually identified lead dust throughout the range.” He was joined on a tour of the facility by nine city employees, according to the firm’s report.

“There are several notable areas where potentially problematic amounts of lead have accumulated that should be immediately addressed to reduce health hazards,” the inspector wrote.

The latest time city staff cleaned the gun range was in July two thousand fourteen, according to city records. That fall, executive turned to environmental hygiene firm Entek to conduct a lead assessment both interior the range and on the roof.

“Clearly, there is extensive lead contamination interior of the building in every room and on the roof of the building,” the company wrote in a Nov. twenty, two thousand fourteen, report to the city. “Entek didn't assess the lead in the soil in the immediate surrounding area of the building where lead from the roof would presumably have settled from rain and wash off from the roof.”

Entek certified dust from thirty-nine spots interior the range for lead. The element was found in every test; the levels in all but one of those tests exceeded the state’s hazard standards, according to Entek’s report.

The highest concentration was 70.000 micrograms per square ft on a bullet target in the firing range. The ceiling in a classroom had lead dust levels that were forty-eight times the hazard level. Readings fourteen times the hazard levels were detected on cabinets both in a kitchen and the men’s restroom.

The highest reading on the roof – 19.000 micrograms per square foot – was found on top of an exhaust fan unit; that reading is forty-eight times the state’s hazard level for exterior horizontal surfaces, according to Entek’s report. More than ten feet away, on the other side of the roof, a reading of four hundred forty micrograms per square ft was detected, slightly over the hazard threshold.

In the weeks that followed Entek’s report, city staffers, in emails, acknowledged the severity of the conditions. Shirey “took immediate action” when he was notified of the contamination, said city spokeswoman Linda Tucker; he ordered the range closed on Dec. twenty-four, two thousand fourteen.

Combs, city parks director at the time, said in emails to city staffers that he wanted to hand over control of the range to one of the gun clubs that used the facility. According to the exchanges, doing so would require the city to spotless the range and upgrade the equipment and fixtures. But that work was determined to be too costly.

“There are serious code violations and hazardous conditions in the building that should be remedied prior to re-use by the public,” Combs wrote in an email to a City Council staffer in May two thousand fifteen. “Needless to say, the City DOESN'T have $1.3-$1.7 million to invest in rehabilitation of the gun range.”

Conlin, the new parks director, said those cost estimates for cleaning and upgrading the range were “probably conservative.”

“Simply cleaning the lead out just gets you excellent for about one day,” Conlin said. “Once you start shooting in there, you’ve got a ventilation system that's circa 1980-something. You’re talking about a major project to obtain it up and running.”

A retired Marine who said he's spent many hours firing at gun ranges, Conlin said the Mangan range was “in its heyday, probably a fantastic facility.” But it's fallen on hard times.

“Obviously it’s aged,” he said. “There is disrepair there and it was a excellent idea to close it down.”

Significant hazards detailed

In January two thousand fifteen, two weeks after the range was closed, a loss prevention manager in the city’s internal risk management div told Combs in an email that the city was prohibited from letting the range stand in a contaminated state for more than ninety days. She wrote that the roof should be cleaned of lead dust “ASAP,” and that the soil exterior the range should be tested. Combs had asked in a previous email, “What if we just closed the doors and did nothing else at this time?”

The city auditor’s office – acting on a tip from an anonymous whistleblower who raised concerns about contamination at the gun range – released its own report in January two thousand fifteen detailing “significant lead hazards” at the facility and also called for it to be cleaned.

In the course of his examination, City Auditor Jorge Oseguera discussed conditions at the range with Shirey, parks executive and the city attorney’s office, according to emails. Shirey received Oseguera’s report after the range was closed.

Oseguera also briefly summarized the findings at a meeting of a City Council subcommittee that oversees the city’s audits and budget operations. Committee members Mayor Kevin Johson, Councilman Allen Warren and Councilman Rick Jennings didn't comment during the briefing, which covered multiple whistleblower cases. The City Council has never directed staff to get action on the range contamination.

The gun range operated largely out of view of the city of Sacramento’s top management for years. In an interview with senior auditor Nicholas Cline in December 2014, senior deputy city attorney Sheryl Patterson said top city executive took notice of the facility only after a member of a local gun club was injured at the range and filed a claim.

“The claim brought the Gun Range to the attention of City management and begged the question, ‘What is the City doing owning a gun range?’” Patterson told Cline, according to notes from the interview.

The dangers posed by lead poisoning are at this point well documented. In youthful children, lead poisoning can lead to hearing loss, kidney failure, learning disabilities and behavioral problems, studies show. Adults can suffer memory loss, headaches and mood disorders, and lead poisoning has been linked to miscarriages.

Recent incidents of lead exposure have grabbed national attention.

In Flint, Mich., thousands of residents have been exposed to lead-tainted drinking water after the city switched its water supply. The new supply was more corrosive than water from the previous source, causing lead from elderly water lines to leach into the drinking water.

In Vernon, close Los Angeles, state regulators said a now-closed battery recycling plant exposed hundreds of homes to lead. The state is testing the soil of ten.000 homes close the plant.

Katharine Hammond, a Prof of environmental health sciences in the School of Public Health at the Univ of California, Berkeley, said the location of the Mangan gun range and recorded contamination levels have created “potentially an environmental hazard” that should've been addressed by the city through a thorough cleaning of the facility and testing of nearby soil.

Hammond has researched occupational and environmental health hazards, including lead exposure, for thirty-five years. She said lead dust can “travel quite a distance,” particularly in the form of tiny particles. Hammond said if the dust found on the roof was tiny sufficient to be transported through the range ventilation system, it likely was tiny sufficient to be blown off the roof by wind. How much was moved – and how far – can only be determined by testing.

“Clearly lead has escaped the building and at relatively high levels,” she said. “It’s also blowing off the roof to some degree and continuing to possibly contaminate the neighborhood. And lead is lead, it’s there permanently, it doesn’t deteriorate. It’s either there (on the roof) or it’s been dispersed.”

Hammond said there are multiple ways lead dust produced at the Mangan range could've affected people who visited the park or live in nearby homes, including inhalation. Children are particularly assailable to lead poisoning, experts said, and if lead is in the soil close the range and in the park, it could be ingested by children who touch the soil and space their fingers in their mouths.

“I don’t wish to panic people, and there may not be a cause for panic,” Hammond added. “It’s an unknown at this point, but from a public health point of view, the city owes it to the citizens to do some serious checking into this. That means it should be investigated, not that they should shrug their shoulders and walk far from it.”

Hammond said, however, that there may be validity to the city’s idea of not cleaning the roof, citing the risk of disturbing the lead dust.

“It is true that just trying to spotless things could create more of a problem and it's to be done very carefully,” she said.

Green, the UC Davis researcher, on the other hand, said the notion of leaving the dust on the roof is “crazy.”

“All over the country, from plumbing pipes in the city of Flint, Michigan, to contaminated wetlands, where there are high levels of lead, you spotless it up, you keep it in a hazardous waste site where it won’t be moved, and you replace the soil or cover it with paint if it’s on a rooftop,” he said.

Green said the city also should conduct multiple tests of the soil throughout Mangan Park, beyond the immediate vicinity of the range, and that the park should be closed while the tests are conducted.

“When you create one measurement from one spot, you just don’t know,” he said, referring to Ltd tests conducted on the facility’s roof. “If they obtain five, 10 measurements of soil and they’re all low – great, that’s excellent news for everyone. If it’s not low, that means they’ve got to do something. The only decision that's truly horrible is to do nothing.”

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