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October 11, 2011

Williston Residents Call on North Country Sportsman's Club To Get The Lead Out

Williston lead#1 A decades-old shooting range in Williston has once again come under fire from its neighbors, who blame the sportsman's club for dangerously high levels of lead that have shown up in their soil, drinking water, pond and the creek that runs across their property.

On Tuesday, Mona and Leo Boutin (pictured, at right), whose family has lived and farmed on the 50-acre property off Creamery Road in Williston for five generations, released the results of tests done last summer on their soil and wellwater. Those tests revealed lead levels that are twice as high as what's considered safe for raising livestock, and nearly seven times higher than the level considered safe for human consumption.

The recent tests, taken June 30 on Sucker Brook, are almost identical to the levels that showed up two years ago. As Andy Bromage reported in his July 13, 2011 story, "Long Shot: Bruce Ryan Took Aim at Montpelier Gun Club Pollution — and 16 Years later Found His Target," Williston's North Country Sportsman’s Club first caused alarm among neighbors in 2009 when water samples collected downstream from the range showed lead levels just shy of what health experts deem "the upper limit for toxic substances in water."

The firing range has since received a federal grant, funded through an excise tax on firearms and ammunition, to realign shooting alleys and plan for reclaiming spent lead on the grounds. However, lead bullets and shot are still used regularly at the range.

"We were told [by the state] not to worry about it" two years ago, says Mona Boutin, who now heads the citizens' group, Lead-Free Williston. "Well, that's fine if it isn't your water and it isn't your family that's drinking it. The time for concern is here and now."

Health experts warn that there is no safe level of human exposure to lead, which can build up in the human body and cause a host of problems, including high blood pressure, permanent kidney damage and cancer. Lead exposure is particularly dangerous to children, as it can cause developmental problems, lower IQs and serious neurological disorders.

High lead levels are also a problem for wildlife and livestock, and can result in reproductive disorders, including stillborn offspring. Water fowl, frogs and other amphibians are especially susceptible to lead shot, which they often mistake for food.

Williston lead#2

The Boutins, who live on the property with their daughter, Keri Waite, and their grandson, Phoenix, 3, now drink bottled water only and board their horse off-site throughout the winter. However, they have yet to get their own blood levels checked.

"I'm not sure I want to," admits Leo Boutin. "We drank water on this farm my whole life, and I'm 55."

The Boutins estimate that, based on the amount of visitors to the shooting range and the number of years it's been in operation, there are likely more than a million pounds of lead shot in the surrounding soil. Phone calls to the North Country Sportsman's Club went unanswered by the time this story was posted.

Jessica Edgerly with the environmental and public health group, Toxics Action Center, reports that the club did offer a four-part lead abatement plan when this problem first came to light two years ago. That plan includes monitoring the pH of the soil on the range, applying lime "if appropriate," monitoring the technology available to reclaim lead and finally, implementing lead-abatement "if feasible."

Yet despite such assurances, Mona Boutin complains that virtually nothing has been done to get the lead out of the soil or water, and neither the town nor the state have addressed the pollution, even though Sucker Brook is located in a state-designated "wellhead protection area." Last year, Boutin sent a letter to Deb Markowitz, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, but was told by one state official that "there's nothing we can do for you."

Dr. Robert Nesbit, a neighbor of the Boutins, expressed his impatience and frustration at both the sportsman's club and state officials for dragging their feet to address this significant public-health concern.

"This is a common-sense issue," said Nesbit, who works as a surgeon in Colchester. "Lead is a significant toxin and it makes no sense why [the club] is being careful about their statements. They have a mess. They created a mess. They need to step up and address it. The right amount of lead [exposure] is zero."

This should have been displayed in the comic pages of 7 days

Lead pollution is a serious matter and the State needs to get off it's ass and fulfill its' obligations.

The right to bear arms does not include the right to poison your neighbors.

Why doesn't the beloved NRA help in this effort? Or is all their money already spoken for in politicians' wallets?

The area needs an indoor range for these sport shooters. They capture and recycle the bullets and the buildings are safe and quiet on the outside. Better for everyone.

I believe it is a scientific fact that lead already exists in the soil in it's natural state. I believe it is also a scientific fact that lead once returned to the soil, via form of bullets or other factions goes back to it's natural state. Did anyone test this soil before they had a shooting range closeby and climbed on the "kill the shooting range horse" ONCE MORE? Folks whether you like shooting sports or not and no matter what your political stand is, if you close all the safe areas in which we are able to learn how to handle firearms in a safe and responsible way, we will lose one of the most powerful human rights we now have. An unarmed populace is only asking to be over taken and ruled. Just because Media and Politicians seem to make it appear to be "Trendy" to hate firearms, ask any politician if he or she is willing to fire all their ARMED body guards that we help pay their salary.
As for building indoor ranges...inquire about the cost of that. It was attempted in Burlington. Ask the State of Vermont, if they will help with all the permits and red-tape and inflated insurance liability rates, seeings they are so worried about lead. Folks there are alot of poisons that farmers are allowed to use openly on crops without any hinderance. Yellow clouds of poisonous pesticides and hebicides go unchecked each year into our air and water without any mention of that. Come on people stop trying to wear such pretty political fashion apparel and realize shooting ranges are not the bad guys that they are painted by the uncaring and uninformed or partially-informed media, political factions, or someone who likes to feel self-important with new found attention. Hey, I don't like Golf. Let's ban all the County Clubs and give all this new found acreage to some third world needy group.

JB, you comments include several faulty assumptions, both about the landowners in question and the facts surrounding this case:
1. The elevated lead levels found in the Boutins' soil and well are not consistent with the lead levels found elsewhere on their property or the levels found upstream of the gun range, which are far lower.
2. Lead that returns to the soil (as bullets or shot) does not automatically revert to its "natural state," nor does it become any less of a threat to human life or the environment.
3. The landowners are not anti-gun, anti-hunting or anti-gun range. Leo Boutin is a fifth- or sixth-generation Vermonter who hunts and owns firearms himself. He and his wife are NOT asking the state to "kill" the gun club. They're simply asking the range to be a responsible neighbor and clean up its mess.
4. This story is NOT about guns. It's about lead and what happens to it when it's allowed to leach into the soil and groundwater. It's no more anti-gun than a story about drunk driving is anti-automobile.

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