Taking Aim: Shooting Ranges and Environmental Hazards

11/20/2019 - Blog

Over time, lead has been utilized for a number of purposes. From early cosmetics to modern batteries, it permeates many facets of our lives.

Now, however, the most prevalent use for lead is in the manufacturing of bullets. Due to its extreme density, lead is one of the most popular materials in making ammunition. Though many lead-free alternatives have been developed, use of lead bullets is still widespread in the US. The majority are fired at shooting ranges and due to the sheer annual volume, shooting ranges have become an environmental red flag to consider when evaluating a property.

Shooting ranges, on average, contain anywhere between 25,000-50,000 pounds of lead in their soil. Bullets collect after falling to the ground post discharge. Lead then decomposes fairly quickly once the bullet is fired. Bullets exposed to air oxidize and subsequently dissolve when exposed to acidic water or soil. This causes bullet particles and dissolved lead to be carried by storm runoff, eventually migrating through soils into the ground water.

Lead in groundwater is a major environmental hazard; it is toxic to both humans and wildlife, so introduction into local groundwater can be devastating. A study in Mangan Park, a local park near a large Sacramento gun range, showed that concentrations of lead in the soil grew the closer the samples were taken to the shooting range.

Soil Surface Tests[i]

The study illustrated how high concentrations of lead from the high volume of bullets can spread to surrounding areas, posing an immediate hazard.

Despite numerous scientific publications identifying the hazards posed by shooting ranges, there has been little attention drawn to this environmental threat. While the EPA has identified lead contamination associated with shooting ranges as an environmental hazard in a report published in 2005, it has created few regulations. This is in part due to the highly politicized nature of recreational shooting, which has caused the EPA to be careful not to impose too-restrictive measures on shooting ranges. Though the EPA’s “Best Management Practices for Lead at Outdoor Shooting Ranges” offers guidelines in an effort to reduce lead contamination, most management practices are inconsistent and unregulated.

The law protects shooting ranges from liability while they are in operation, but once closed, they become subject to regulation. This creates huge liability potential for land owners and potential buyers, who may be responsible for remediation costs to address any adverse environmental or public health effects stemming from the site. As previously mentioned, each site likely contains thousands of pounds or even tons of lead in its soil; remediating such a site—one likely to be extensively contaminated—can be a costly process.

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment can identify any historical potential or real use as a shooting range, helping better protect current or potential owners from liability for remediation. It is important to make certain that lead contaminants are not still lingering on the property for the health and safety of the public, as well as to protect against personal liability.


[i] https://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/the-public-eye/article72139972.html


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