Lead Found in National Guard Armories Across U.S.

December 20, 2016

Tipsheet: Lead Found in National Guard Armories Across U.S.

A ground-breaking investigative project by the Portland Oregonian’s Rob Davis offers a story lead for environmental journalists across the country.

The Oregonian’s probe found that shooting ranges in National Guard armories in many locales had high residues of toxic lead. The contamination came from lead dust produced at indoor shooting ranges. Exposure to lead can produce a number of serious toxic effects on humans.

The contamination of armories is important not only because military personnel are exposed, but because many public events have been held at armories, exposing a wider public. Parts of the buildings may be used for school sleepovers and scout meetings or rented out for baby showers, baptisms and bazaars.

Lead dust from shooting ranges often spreads throughout armory buildings. Davis found that the Defense Department and state National Guard officials had known about the problem for nearly two decades, but had been slow to act. Media attention from the series is already producing action. The Oregonian interviewed experts and health officials to find out more about what the pressing issues are and what can be done to address the problem.

Oregon armory exercise

The Oregonian reported on an active shooter drill in the the Forest Grove armory in April 2014 in which simulated victims were dragged across a dusty drill hall floor. A later inspection found the floor was contaminated with lead. [PHOTO: 2218FABN via Flickr Creative Commons]

While the “Toxic Armories” series highlighted problems in Oregon, news media in other states are finding similar issues — and some find no contamination. Because of Davis’ digging, it’s not always that hard to find out about your own state, county or city.

That’s because the Oregonian has put the results of its investigation into a searchable database. The Oregonian compiled it from some 23,000 pages of public records, largely obtained through some 100 requests under federal and state open-records laws. The Oregonian continues to receive records.

Right now, the database has information about 1,304 armories. Lead has been found in 424 of those, 55 have been found free of lead and 827 have not been inspected or have no report. Many of the shooting ranges are now closed, but buildings may remain open and contamination is often ongoing.

Following the Oregonian series, media have covered similar problems in Montana, Michigan, New York and Vermont. No lead was found in New Hampshire armories.

In response to the Oregonian investigation, the National Guard has halted community events in all toxic armories across the country. Oregon’s entire Congressional delegation has called for hearings on the matter. Here is the latest National Guard order addressing the problem.

Not only can the Oregonian database help you report on possible toxic armories in your area — but you can help the Oregonian and your fellow reporters nationwide by contributing to the database.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 1, No. 8. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main pageSubscribe to the e-newsletter here.  And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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