A large number of lead bullets have been discharged at the rifle range in the 50 years since it began operations in 1971. This accumulation of lead, a potential environmental health hazard, has become a cause of concern for Whatcom County and State agencies.
A salmon-bearing stream, part of the Lake Samish Watershed, flows through and along the outdoor range and wetlands are also present on the eastern edge of the property. The layout of the range has allowed lead bullets to fall in close proximity to the stream and into the wetland. Lead is a pollutant that presents a health hazard to humans when exposure reaches certain thresholds. It can also have negative impacts on animals.
Recent testing confirmed a high concentration of lead in the soil. Surface water tests downstream indicate a concentration of lead that marginally exceeded Clean Water Act standards for aquatic life in freshwater systems. At the same time, detected lead levels have remained well below the regulatory benchmarks for drinking water.
In order to address this legacy issue of lead contamination, Whatcom County has entered into an agreement with the Washington Department of Ecology to remove contaminated soil and take proactive steps to prevent future impacts on water quality. Whatcom County has already begun to take the first steps toward implementation of the site clean-up plan.
Clean-up efforts will impact operations. The high-power range will be closed starting November 1, 2022. The County will engage with stakeholders over the long-term future of the range and analyze the costs and benefits associated with continuing operations under stricter regulations.
While no tests conducted to date have shown lead levels in water approaching a concentration that would present a human health hazard, we know this may be a concerning topic. We take these issues - and our community’s health - very seriously. We are committed to the health of our environment and our community. If you have questions about lead in your drinking water, please refer to the Whatcom County Health Department's informational webpage and flyer on lead.