Oregonian investigation finds lead lingering in Connecticut armories

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The Hartford State Armory off Broad Street in Hartford had the highest single measurement of lead on a surface in 2015 tests. —Jake Kara photo

The Hartford State Armory off Broad Street in Hartford had the highest single measurement of lead on a surface in 2015 tests. —Jake Kara photo

The National Guard has difficulty keeping lead at bay in armories with decommissioned indoor firing ranges in Connecticut and across the nation.

Connecticut has 11 armories with former indoor firing ranges, and nine of them had higher levels of lead than 200 micrograms per square foot in at least one test, according to an 18-month, nationwide investigation by the Oregonian newspaper and its OregonLive website.

There are a few different guidelines on what lead levels are acceptable on surface wipe tests, but the 200-microgram level is one set out in National Guard guidelines. The guideline states the level is 40 micrograms in the case of child exposure.

In Connecticut, the highest level of lead was 17,000 micrograms per square foot, measured in the former firing range of the Hartford armory, which is steps away from the state Capitol.

That put Connecticut about in the middle of all states for which reports were available when ranked by the highest lead level found. Two states — Oregon and West Virginia — found lead levels of around 14 million micrograms per square foot, and the next highest readings were around 1.5 and 1.1 million in Ohio and North Dakota respectively.

The Oregonian report describes how lead becomes a byproduct of firing range use this way: “Whenever a soldier pulled the trigger, tiny bits of lead escaped. Lead in the bullet’s explosive primer, which ignites gunpowder, vaporized with each strike of the hammer. More lead flaked off as the slug careened down the barrel and hit its target.”

“Guard officials became aware in the 1980s that firing ranges, often built in unventilated basements, posed lead hazards.”

When lead is breathed in or ingested, lead can absorb into your body, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Most forms of lead are not absorbed through the skin, according to OSHA.

The Connecticut armories phased out use of the indoor firing ranges in the 1980s, Maj. Mike Petersen, a spokesman for the Connecticut National Guard, wrote in an email to Trend CT this week.

“These areas are clearly marked with posted signage and are off limits to the general public,” Petersen wrote. “After the use of indoor firing ranges ceased, they were cleaned and abated throughout the 1990s, and then again in 2009-2010.”

There are housekeeping guidelines meant to address the lead hazard, such as a using High-Efficiency Particulate Air-filter vacuums, and wet mopping rather than sweeping. Each year the National Guard must conduct testing — wiping surfaces and having the wipes analyzed at a lab — to track lead levels in the facilities.

In addition, Petersen wrote, “In 2016, an environmental firm licensed by the state of Connecticut wrote specifications for lead hazard controls in the former firing ranges, and we integrate these controls into any construction/abatement work performed in these facilities in order to continue our goal of meeting the stringent federal standards.”

In Connecticut armories in Enfield and Southington did not have levels of lead above the 200 microgram level. The highest reported level in Southington was 160 micrograms per square foot, and in Enfield all samples were below the test’s 110 microgram threshold.

Petersen added, “In the ten months since our initial response to The Oregonian’s inquiry, the Connecticut National Guard secured funding to once again take on the monumental task of lead abatement. After the completion of a remediation project this year, the latest measurements show that two of the eleven armories listed in the report – Southington and Norwich – currently meet the strict federal standards. We will continue to pursue the funding necessary to bring all of our facilities to this same standard, prioritizing these remediation projects while continuing to monitor and perform routine housekeeping.”

Highest lead levels found in each Connecticut armory
Hartford’s National Guard armory had the highest lead levels in the state, 17,000 micrograms per square foot, located in the building’s former firing range, according to a 2015 inspection. Data compiled by the Oregonian.
City Lead level Area Year
Hartford 17000 Former firing range 2015
Vernon 10000 Vent in library, part of converted firing range 2014
Norwich 6400 Former firing range electrical panel 2014
Stratford 3400 Old firing range floor 2015
New London 1300 Floors and walls of old firing range 2015
Branford 1200 Old firing range floor 2014
Waterbury 880 Old firing range 2014
Westbrook 560 Firing range vent 2015
New Britain 460 Fitness center, under table 2012
Southington 160 N/A 2015
Enfield N/A N/A 2014
The Oregonian/OregonLive

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