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Williston Neighbors Target Gun Club Over Lead Contamination


Published November 17, 2009 at 1:28 p.m.

Mona and Leo Boutin of Williston (pictured) want the shooting range next door to clean up its act — and ensure that tons of lead shotgun pellets in its soil aren't contaminating the neighborhood's groundwater.

A neighborhood coalition calling itself Lead Free Williston held a press conference Tuesday morning to release results of water tests that show elevated levels of lead in a stream that originates on the gun club property, and to call for more testing.

A dozen neighbors convened on the Boutins' 50-acre family farm on Old Creamery Road to call on the North Country Sportsman's Club to take more aggressive steps to clean up the spent lead shot and prevent contamination of local wells and streams.

After becoming concerned about potential lead leeching, the Boutins hired Environmental Compliance Services out of Waterbury to test samples from the brook that cuts through their property, where for years beef cattle raised by the Boutins would drink. The results showed .09 miliigrams of lead per liter — almost double the safe level for watering livestock, and approaching the level where human consumption becomes risky.

That's the first time lead levels that high have turned up in tests. A test by the state of the Boutins' well water last year showed extremely low levels of lead (below what the state considers a health risk) and samples of well water and spring water taken from the gun club, analyzed by a Florida firm, came in "below detection level."

The testing couldn't pinpoint the gun club as the source of the contamination, but neighbors suspect it is.

"I ask you: What would you do if this contaminated stream was in your backyard, flowing through your dreams?" Mona Boutin told reporters. "This beautiful haven is contaminated with lead."

Lead Free Williston and the Toxics Action Center, an antipollution group aiding their cause, want the club to implement a series of the EPA's "best management practices" for shooting ranges. Those include: neutralizing the soil with lime to prevent lead breakdown; building berms to contain the lead; switching to nontoxic metals for shotgun shells, such as stainless steel; and reclaiming the spent shot pellets from the soil.

Club president Tom Blair says he's already spread lime on his property, and calls some of the other recommendations "infeasible." The machines that scoop spent shot from club grounds aren't well suited to Williston's rocky, uneven terrain, he says. Blair says he's looking into other technologies.

Meanwhile, Blair isn't ready to concede that his club is the source of the contamination. Only one of three samples taken from the Boutins' brook tested high for lead, he says, and it could be an old lead pipe or even nature itself causing the spike.

Read more about this story in the November 18 issue of Seven Days.