Homeowners anxious after Sacramento finds elevated lead levels in their yards
Elevated levels of lead have been discovered in the yards of 11 homes near a closed indoor gun range in south Sacramento’s Mangan Park, city officials said Tuesday.
Tests of the soil in 29 yards near the city-owned James G. Mangan Rifle and Pistol Range last month found 11 with lead above the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control screening level for residences. That means the lead in the soil was at levels that could be harmful to children after long-term exposure.
City officials cautioned Tuesday that they want to conduct further testing in the neighborhood to determine whether the closed gun range was the source of the lead, or whether it was the result of lead paint or other sources. Many yards also had lead levels far below the state’s screening level.
Parks director Christoper Conlin said he expects the city will remove contaminated soil from at least some of the yards.
“The health and safety of the neighborhood is paramount,” Conlin said. “We know some of the lawns are high and we owe it to the neighborhood to figure out why.”
City officials suggested airborne leaded gasoline fumes from airplanes landing and taking off at nearby Sacramento Executive Airport could have contributed to the elevated lead levels found in the neighborhood. But Peter Green, a civil and environmental engineering researcher at UC Davis, said more houses in the neighborhood likely would have tested at higher lead levels if the airplane fuel were to blame.
“It’s likely the (gun) range,” said Green, whose specialties include lead and mercury contamination in urban areas. “It seems reasonable (those levels would be discovered) at the edge of an area where there was a lead problem. It’s not horrendous, but it’s above the levels.”
City officials sent letters to residents of the homes tested for lead. For those where lead concentrations were greater than 80 milligrams per kilogram, Conlin wrote, “The testing result for your yard indicates an elevated level of lead in the soil that may be a health concern.” Long-term exposure to lead can lead to hearing loss, kidney failure, learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children.
The city quietly closed the James G. Mangan Rifle and Pistol range in December 2014 after at least eight years of tests revealed high levels of lead dust inside the building.
A 2012 report by TRS Range Services determined the ventilation system inside the polluted range appeared to be spewing unfiltered air to the outdoors, but city officials waited two years after that report to test the gun range roof. Tests in 2014 found toxic levels of lead dust on multiple locations on the roof.
Toxic lead dust was then found in several locations on or near the range this year. Those tests – and the subsequent sampling of nearby yards – were ordered only after The Sacramento Bee began reporting about the range in March.
Lead dust at concentrations far above the California Department of Public Health hazard level was found on the sidewalk in front of the range building and in two locations in a parking lot behind the building. Separate tests found hazardous levels of lead dust on the building roof in April – 16 months after the building was closed. But tests also found lead levels far below the hazard threshold on a sidewalk across 34th Avenue from the range, bordering four of the homes where elevated lead was found in yards. A nearby picnic area, playground and pool area were also clean.
More tests in August found contaminated soil around the building and in parts of a public archery range near the facility. City officials gradually expanded a fence they erected around the range this spring and said Tuesday they had removed all of the contaminated soil from the area around the building.
Sacramento County’s Environmental Management Department ordered the city to test homes near the gun range last month, basing that order on atmospheric models that showed the dust could have been blown from the building’s roof and into the neighborhood. City officials asked the residents of 41 homes for permission to test their yards and 29 agreed. The tests were conducted between Oct. 7 and Oct. 18.
At least 90 samples of soil were taken from each yard.
Green, the UC Davis researcher, reviewed the city’s testing methods and said “they’re using an established approach and are taking it seriously.” He said the city will likely want to remove the contaminated soil from the impacted yards.
The city will present its proposal for how to proceed to Sacramento County’s Environmental Management Department, which is overseeing the gun range cleanup. The county will review that plan before directing the city on its next steps.
“Whatever we need to do, the city will take that responsibility and move forward,” said Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents Mangan Park. “I certainly feel for these folks (neighborhood residents).”
The soil in Abraham Jacobo’s yard on Helen Way was found to have lead at a concentration of 90 milligrams of lead per kilogram. Jacobo, 73, has lived there for 18 years and said he isn’t concerned for his own health. But he has four grandchildren between the ages of 8 and 12, and he said he won’t allow them to play in his backyard until the soil is removed.
“Now that I know there’s lead back there, I’m concerned,” he said. “The city is going to have to clean it and they’re going to pay for it.”
Three houses away, Sid Aguirre said he wasn’t aware that his yard also had elevated lead levels until he was told by a Sacramento Bee reporter. Aguirre has rented his home on Helen Way for the past three years and in recent months, he said he began noticing changes at the gun range.
“The fence around the building kept getting wider and wider,” he said.
Now that the city has determined the soil in his yard has elevated levels of lead, Aguirre said he wants the yard cleaned.
“Finding out your yard has lead – I’m nervous, I want to find out more,” he said.