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Posts Tagged ‘Santa Ana River’

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Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun.
A large net at the Redlands Shooting Park is designed to stop lead shot from getting into the adjacent Santa Ana River, but shot often gets through.

Today I’m sharing an interesting article that Earle Cummings sent back in March, right before I began focusing on Covid stories. It’s about lead pollution at a firing range in the desert. We know about lead pollution in pre-1978 house paint and in the water of Flint, Michigan, where some children from poor families suffer from permanent damage.

But there’s also lead pollution from bullets, which can be especially dangerous near a river. Mark Olalde reported on the issue for the Palm Springs Desert Sun.

“Shrapnel from ricocheting bullets hits Kenny Graham about four times a day. At this point, he just accepts it as part of his job.

“As he rolled a cigarette and talked, a piece of flying metal banged viciously off a mechanical contraption with holes in it used to separate sand and rocks, not two feet from Graham’s unprotected hands. ‘There goes a pellet right there,’ he said deadpan, seated in the dry, sandy Santa Ana River in Redlands. …

“Graham — who said he is experiencing homelessness, working through a divorce and otherwise unemployed — makes money by mining and recycling lead buckshot and bullet fragments that escape from the adjacent Redlands Shooting Park. …

“The park has hosted sport shooters since the mid-1960s, but the business did little to stop lead, which is toxic to humans and wildlife, from entering the ephemeral waterway until 2013. Even now, pieces of bullets appear to find their way into this dry portion of the river where they can flow downstream when it rains.

“For much of its history, the site fell through the cracks among various regulatory bodies tasked with guarding the environment and public health. In their absence, a small-scale mining economy has sprung up in the legally protected river.

“While many people in need of steady work scour garbage bins for recyclable aluminum cans, glass bottles or plastic containers, Graham and a small cadre of compatriots spend their days pulling bullet fragments from the ground. They sell the lead at a nearby recycling center for 40 cents a pound. …

Graham said, ‘It’s not much money, but I get a sense of peace knowing that I possibly can help somebody.’

“Graham said he can’t afford personal protective equipment but knows that lead is a heavy metal that’s toxic to humans. Although lead’s health consequences are more dire in children, the metal can cause cardiovascular and kidney problems, damage to cognitive functions and reproductive issues in adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …

“Documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that decades of errant bullets had contaminated 42 acres of the waterway, including habitat for several federally listed endangered species. … The business no longer tries to recover lead from the riverbed. …

” ‘It’s the sporting of the rich man, but it’s the poor cleaning up,’ observed Tommy Lu, who runs an efficient-looking operation just downstream of Graham. …

“Against the backdrop of the regular report of gunfire, he laid a tarp down, scraped his shovel against the wall in his pit and watched sand, rocks and metal shower down. Next, he poured the mixture over a perforated metal sheet on a contraption he built to separate out rock. An orange extension cord attached to it snaked out of the hole and under the hood of his dusty Lexus SUV parked nearby to provide electricity.

“Lu turned on the machine, and it began to rattle noisily, sifting out pebbles. The final step, he said, would be to set up a fan and pour the remaining mixture across the stream of air, blowing away the lighter sand while collecting the lead.

“It’s not a place to get rich, but the labor does bring a consistent payday. If he works long hours, Lu said he can sometimes make more than $100 in a day. ..

“Every so often, a sound like the crackle of dying fireworks signaled material showering against the netting. Lu, like Graham, said he gets hit several times a day, comparing the feeling to a rubber band unexpectedly snapping on the back of his neck.

“Most of the miners’ holes dug in the riverbed are covered by tarps and fabric held up by mismatched tent poles. The lean-tos are meant to protect them against the hot sun and stinging pellets.

“Lu joked that he would mine into someone else’s pit if they didn’t move fast enough, but he said the group digging in the river is otherwise peaceful. …

“Carl Baker, a spokesperson for the city of Redlands, said via email that the Redlands Police Department does not usually arrest anyone for mining lead there, but the department is aware that ‘illegal scavenging’ is ongoing. …

“But if Graham and Lu are breaking the law, whose job is it to force them to stop, let alone to clean up the river, to protect community health and to ensure that Redlands Shooting Park keeps its shot curtain in good condition? …

“Calls and emails to the EPA, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, the county’s public works department, the California Natural Resources Agency, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Redlands Fire Department, the county fire department and the Department of Toxic Substances Control did not turn up a lead agency checking on the situation. …

” ‘I’ve never seen anyone take a mineral sample,’ said Graham, who said he lives at the site and has worked there nearly a year. …

“Robert Wise, an EPA employee assigned to act as the on-scene coordinator, called off further reclamation [September 2013], saying that it would do more damage than good to the important habitat. … ‘Wise made the determination that no further cleanup of the lead in the River/Preserve is warranted. Over time, the illegal scavenging operations will remove the lead currently present in the River/Preserve,’ according to an EPA report on the matter. …

“Even though [Graham is] saving up to buy Lu’s old car, he’s adamant that his main rationale for scavenging is to protect public health and the environment.

” ‘It’s not fair for people to get unknowingly sick because of someone else’s extracurricular carelessness,’ he said.” More at the Desert Sun, here.

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