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NBC7 San Diego reports that Seven San Diego Police Department officers have filed worker’s compensation claims after blood testing showed elevated lead levels in their bodies, and the Police Chief has shut down an outdoor gun range believed to be the cause.The range is located on Federal Boulevard, just north of state Route 94 and west of Interstate 805 in the Fairmount Park neighborhood.

About a month ago, the city ordered air sample tests at the range after officers raised concerns. It’s not unusual to find higher levels of lead at firing ranges, but those tests showed lead concentrations more than 10 times greater than the OSHA standard for acceptable air levels.

Every year, sworn SDPD officers are required to pass firearm proficiency training at that range for their service weapons and off-duty weapons. That’s a minimum of three sessions per gun.

The officers who work there have gray dust in their nose and ears at the end of the day from working there for 10 hours doing department shoots,” Wilson said. “And they’ve been subjected to lead dust for over a year now.”

A little more than a year ago, the city installed a Vortex Total Containment Trap as part of an ongoing renovation project. As bullets enter a chamber, they are funneled into a compartment that can be removed and emptied. Before that installation, bullets were fired through targets into dirt berms.

NBC 7 Investigates discovered the range was cited for violations relating to lead prior to the renovation. That happened during a routine inspection of the range in February of 2020. Five violations were discovered at that time, having to do with proper handling and disposal of hazardous waste.

– – Violation 1: Failed to make a proper waste determination
– – Violation 2: Failed to properly dispose of hazardous waste at an authorized facility.
– – Violation 3: Failed to maintain &/or operate facility to minimize the possibility of a fire, explosion, or any unplanned sudden or non-sudden release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents.
– – Violation 4: Initial &/or annual employee training not conducted in safety procedures for a hazardous material release or threatened release &/or employee training records not available or not maintained for 3 years.
– – Violation 5: Failed to report &/or update the required inventory information for hazardous waste(s) generated at the facility in CERS.

The police union says the firearms instructors who work at the range now suffer from chronic headaches and joint pain, and that all seven officers recently tested for lead exposure and reported blood lead levels in the teens. NBC 7 Investigates asked to see those test results, but the officers declined to share their medical information.

Doctors say no level of lead in your blood is considered safe. Cal/OSHA requires that employers immediately remove workers who test at or above 50 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. The California Department of Public Health considers any level over five “dangerous.”

That’s why lead dust is especially concerning at gun ranges. Yet, the city chose not to install that dust collection unit, a piece of safety equipment that would added $184,000 to the city’s $17.8 million range renovation project.

When NBC7 asked the city why the collector wasn’t installed, they said it’s because it was optional. The manufacturer confirmed to NBC 7 Investigates some customers choose not to install them at outdoor ranges.

Fixing lead issues at the range is a priority now. Mayor Todd Gloria’s office didn’t make him available for an on-camera interview, but sent a statement:

Since the range is now closed, the department is advising officers to use other police agencies or private ranges to practice.