In an ongoing series, the Seattle Times reports that city, county and federal police agencies across the U.S. have put their officers in harm's way by failing to clean indoor shooting ranges, replace dilapidated ventilation and educate their employees about the risks of lead. In hazy, dirty gun ranges, officers fired lead-based ammunition, spreading lead vapor and dust, which they then inhaled, ingested or absorbed through skin contact. In Largo, Fl., a range master at the police shooting range says lead exposure caused his teeth to fall out and he suffers from neuropathy. In Londonderry, N.H., a 35-year-old police sergeant died of lead poisoning days after training fellow officers at a private indoor-gun range.
Cases like these have spanned decades, despite a litany of reports and warnings about the dangers of lead in police gun ranges. In the Seattle area, three police departments have violated workplace-safety laws about lead, all saying they were unaware of some of the rules. Lead contamination at police-operated ranges has gone unchecked for years because federal and state regulators rarely scrutinize them. Inspectors usually only show up after someone files a complaint, or after it's too late — when a blood test shows an employee already has lead poisoning. “It was totally preventable,” said Amy Crawford, 40, a Washington state corrections officer about her lead-poisoning case and others she's heard about. “That's the worst part of all.”