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California News Release

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, May 2, 2001

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Guns can be hazardous to your health even if you don't get shot with one, according to a new study of the harm to people and the environment from lead pollution at shooting ranges in California and nationwide.

"Poisonous Pastime" by the Violence Policy Center and Environmental Working Group documents how shooting ranges are poisoning children and polluting the environment with lead, yet remain almost entirely unregulated - exempt even from the Bush Administration's new lead pollution reporting rules. Despite the environmental threat and the health costs, cities, counties, school districts, state universities and parks districts throughout California maintain shooting ranges, at least in part with tax dollars.

The report, available Tuesday at www.ewg.org or www.vpc.org, warns that parents who don't know they're bringing home lead from the shooting range are putting their own children at risk for lead poisoning, which can cause severe learning disabilities and other serious health problems. There also is a growing body of evidence that lead poisoning may be a contributing cause of violent criminal behavior in some people.

"There is no question that the toxic levels of lead at shooting ranges are endangering America's children and families," said Tom Diaz of VPC, principal author of the report.

The study found that outdoor firing ranges put more lead into the environment than almost any other major industrial sector in the U.S. According to EWG and VPC, in just three years a typical firing range can become as contaminated with lead as a five-acre Superfund site, and the amount of waste lead contained in a single .45-caliber bullet is enough to contaminate the daily drinking water supply of a city the size of San Francisco to a level deemed unsafe by the U.S. EPA.

"It's very likely that every one of the 3,200 outdoor firing ranges in the U.S. is so highly contaminated with lead that a massive cleanup effort would be required to make it safe for any other industrial or residential use," said EWG Research Director Jane Houlihan.

Indoor ranges expose workers and shooters to extremely high levels of airborne lead dust they may unwittingly take home to their families. According to the California Department of Health Services, some shooting range employees have been found to have blood lead levels more than 7.5 times higher than the lead poisoning threshold of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Yet shooting ranges remain largely outside both federal and state regulation. No state license is required to operate a shooting range, nor does the state even know how many shooting ranges there are in California or their locations. The National Rifle Association and its affiliated National Shooting Sports Foundation list more than 200 places to shoot in California. (The NRA's list of California shooting ranges by city is at www.nrahq.com/shooting/shootingrange/findlocal.asp)

In California, EWG and VPC also found:

  • State law specifically exempts shooting ranges from civil liability or criminal prosecution for noise pollution.
  • The state Department of Toxic Substances Control, like the U.S. EPA, has authority over shooting ranges only if they are abandoned and classified as toxic dump sites.
  • State labor law requires blood tests for all workers at risk of lead poisoning, but very few ranges provide testing for their employees, let alone customers.

"Shooting ranges are like toxic waste dumps," said Bill Walker, California director of EWG. "They present themselves as good neighbors, but their very existence in the community is a threat to the environment and public health. We've got to start holding the gun industry accountable for lead poisoning and lead pollution as well as gun violence."

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