Toxic Armories: National Guard Inaction Exposes Communities to Lead Poisoning

August 28th, 2017 - by admin

Rob Davis / The Oregonian – 2017-08-28 17:00:42

Toxic Armories: National Guard
Inaction Exposes Communities to Lead

Oregon Live / The Oregonian

How Lead Leaves a Gun

Part 1 — National Guard inaction exposes communities to lead

Part 2 — Oregon armories earn millions, endanger thousands

Road to armory records proves long, winding — Interactive Map


Download the series in PDF form

Toxic Armories, Part 1:
National Guard Inaction Exposes Communities to Lead

Rob Davis / The Oregonian

(December 2, 2016) — In a former Montana National Guard armory where more than 20 workers got sick, lead-laced dust bunnies the size of tangerines clogged the ventilation system.

In two Oregon armories where parents unwittingly let infants crawl, the neurotoxin blanketed floors at levels as high as 10 times the federal safety standard.

In a Wisconsin armory classroom where pregnant women and mothers with infants learned about nutrition, the poisonous powder coated a desktop.

Hundreds of armories across the United States have been contaminated by dangerous amounts of lead dust, an 18-month investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive has found.

The Defense Department and state National Guard officials knew about these toxic armories for nearly two decades but moved slowly to address the problem, leaving soldiers, civilian employees and children exposed, records and interviews show.

In Oregon alone, tens of thousands of people have spent time in armories covered in lead.

Armories in big cities and small towns have housed tearful deployments, joyful reunions and thousands of community events. They’re civic landmarks, where part-time soldiers drilled one weekend a month and fired weapons at indoor shooting ranges.

But the firearms emitted an insidious form of lead every time a bullet left the chamber. The National Guard’s neglect allowed the dust to spread beyond the ranges, into common areas used by the public, including small children most at risk.

The National Guard’s indoor firing ranges were supposed to be well-ventilated, cleaned regularly and equipped with air filters to prevent lead from escaping. But in armories from Washington state to Vermont, people tracked dust outside the ranges by foot. Ventilation systems sucked in lead, spreading it to public areas and offices, sometimes as far as roofs, sidewalks and the soil outside, according to inspection records.

The scope of the contamination is staggering.

Inspectors have found lead dust at alarming levels in armory gyms, drill halls, conference rooms, hallways, stairwells, kitchens, pantries, offices, bathrooms and a day care center, records and interviews show.

The neurotoxin contaminated coffee makers, ice makers, refrigerators, dishes, soldiers’ uniforms, children’s toys, medical supplies, water bottles, carpets, soda machines, bookshelves, fans, furniture, heaters, basketball backboards and a boxing bag.

Even a deli meat-slicer.

The National Guard was put on notice about the lead problem in the 1990s. Guard officials pledged to identify which of their roughly 1,800 firing ranges were polluted, but they never followed through.

The Oregonian/OregonLive did what the Guard failed to do, obtaining more than 23,000 pages of public records from 41 states and building a database from scratch. The database of 1,304 current and former sites offers the nation’s most comprehensive accounting of toxic armories.

Inspectors found lead in 424 armories in the past four years, or nearly 90 percent of the places for which results are available. In 192 of those contaminated buildings, inspectors found the toxic material outside the firing range.

Contaminated Armories
Click the buttons above the map to view what’s known and unknown based on armory inspections conducted since 2012. Click on a state or armory for greater detail and links to documents. Light gray states provided no inspection reports as of Nov. 23, 2016. Federal regulators say that areas frequented by children 6 and younger should have less 40 micrograms of lead per square foot.


Interactive by Mark Friesen, Melissa Lewis, Rob Davis, Lynne Palombo, David Cansler and Mark Graves/Staff

More than 700 other armories were not inspected since 2012 despite requirements that officials test former ranges annually and active ranges every two years.

Most of the firing ranges are now closed. But the danger remains. The Guard converted hundreds of ranges into offices, locker rooms, storage areas, gymnasiums, classrooms and other uses without thoroughly cleaning the rooms first.

The extent of the contamination has largely been hidden from the public until now.

Just as alarming is the failure of federal and state officials to fix it when problems were first discovered.

* The National Guard knew its armories had a significant lead problem but allowed it to fester. Time after time, inspectors found lead hotspots at armories and urged the Guard to do something. And time after time, state military officials disregarded the advice.

* The Pentagon’s top watchdog pushed almost 20 years ago for a nationwide cleanup that didn’t happen. The Defense Department inspector general documented lead spreading outside firing ranges in a dozen facilities in 1998. But the problem only got worse.

* Even when states found dangerous levels of lead in armories, the National Guard didn’t look further. In Montana, after the former Helena armory tested high, the Guard didn’t bother to check its other buildings for three more years. Later inspections found lead in five other armories that once housed firing ranges.

* The Guard botched cleanups. In places where lead was found, cleaning crews failed to ensure lead dust was completely removed. Contamination turned up years later in places that were purportedly lead-free.

* Lead persisted in buildings long after their gun ranges fell silent. Laboratory testing commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive found problems at old Oregon armories that the state transferred to new owners more than 15 years ago.

* The number of toxic armories is likely much higher than inspection records show. Eight states didn’t release inspection results. And in states such as South Carolina, where inspectors found lead in 36 armories, the Guard took samples only from the firing range itself — not public areas.

The National Guard Bureau declined to answer questions for this story, saying for six months that a response was in the works.

But it did take action. In response to inquiries from The Oregonian/OregonLive, the National Guard’s central office directed states to inspect every armory for lead and clean the contaminated ones. More than 1,000 armories nationally are undergoing testing as a result. Two states offered voluntary blood testing to their soldiers. Armories in seven states temporarily closed their doors to the public.

The current round of cleaning follows decades of sporadic and poorly executed initiatives to keep lead contamination at bay. All the while, children — whose developing bodies are the most vulnerable to lead’s brain-damaging effects — were placed in harm’s way.

Take the armory in Coos Bay, Oregon. Inspections there in 2006 and 2010 uncovered lead in the building’s drill hall. Inspectors warned that children shouldn’t be allowed near the toxic dust.

But the Oregon National Guard didn’t keep kids out.

Dozens of Roseburg fifth-graders each year spread their sleeping bags on the floor in the same room where inspectors in 2006 found lead dust 650 times above the federal safety threshold.

Teacher Darin Lomica, who led the 10-year-olds from Roseburg’s Melrose Elementary on annual field trips to study tide pools, said he had no idea his students had stayed in contaminated rooms until contacted by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Lomica and his students attended a final sleepover at the Coos Bay facility in May 2015. Emails show Oregon’s top Guard leader at the time, Lt. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, had been notified a month earlier that the armory was one of the state’s most toxic.

Inspectors found lead on every surface they checked.

“That is shocking,” said Lomica, who also slept on the polluted floors. “They go home and put the pillow back on their bed. And they’re going to be sleeping with those day-in and day-out.”

The Oregon Military Department said in a written statement that “mistakes have been made” in its dealings with lead dust but that no one intentionally did anything wrong. The agency said it notified the school’s principal after The Oregonian/OregonLive raised questions about the Coos Bay sleepover.

“We take the health and welfare of our personnel and our community very seriously,” the statement said.

Across the country, other children have wrestled, danced, played volleyball and learned taekwondo in lead-contaminated rooms. States have rented out armories for baptisms, baby showers and wedding receptions that attracted thousands of children. Cub Scout groups brought the same kids in for meeting after meeting.

High Lead Surface Levels.

When announcing armory closures, states have downplayed the dangers.

“It’s nothing crazy. It’s nothing new,” a Michigan National Guard spokeswoman told a local TV station when contaminated armories closed there in early 2016. “It’s not an immediate risk.”

No amount of lead is safe in a child’s body, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children age 6 and younger are the most vulnerable because their bodies are still developing.

Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a researcher at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C., said it’s difficult to quantify the precise risk to a child who visits a contaminated armory just once. But frequent visits to a polluted armory could leave substantial levels of lead in the blood, he said. Parents who worked in the buildings might take lead home on clothing and expose their children.

They might never know it because lead can hurt kids without causing overt symptoms. Studies have found that children with even small amounts of lead in their blood permanently lose IQ points and face greater risks of behavioral and attention problems.

“These are hazardous environments for children and adults to be working in or doing other kinds of activities,” Lanphear said. “They had extraordinarily high levels of lead that are not safe. Period.”

The issue of lead dust in gun ranges gained attention in 2014 when The Seattle Times published an investigation about the dangers. The Times focused on privately owned commercial ranges. The Oregonian/OregonLive‘s reporting is the first to examine the nation’s armories.

The problems in National Guard firing ranges stand out because armories have routinely doubled as community event centers that brought in countless young children.

And while The Times found federal workplace safety oversight lacking at private ranges, military facilities are largely exempt from that oversight. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no authority to investigate when soldiers are poisoned by lead.

The Guard’s failures also put civilian workers at risk. Elevated lead levels have been detected in workers such as Mary Ann Dunwell. Samples of her blood were still above normal a year after the Montana Department of Environmental Quality evacuated its employees from a former armory in Helena after discovering the toxic metal inside.

Dunwell said that while she worked in the building as the agency’s spokeswoman, an itchy, crusty rash broke out around her eyes at least twice a year. She developed sinus headaches. She became irritable and nervous — “keyed up,” she said — a condition that worsened the longer she spent in the building.

A cleaning crew peered inside the heating system and saw dust fly up when the workers tapped on the ductwork. Dunwell sat so close to a vent that she could feel the heat come on above her desk, where she ate lunch from home each day. “I think I was eating lead dust,” Dunwell said.

She said Guard officials gave the state “a polluted lemon” when the armory changed hands. “How could they?” Dunwell said. “It was silently making people sick. It is negligence. We’re paying dearly for it.”

Put on Notice
The National Guard traces its origins to the first organized colonial militia in Massachusetts in 1636. But the volunteer units generally weren’t based in armories until the late 19th century, when social unrest demanded a standing force to keep peace. Portland got its first armory in 1888 after anti-Chinese riots swept the Pacific Northwest.

The Defense Department helped pay for upkeep and construction, but states were responsible for maintaining and overseeing the buildings.

Because the Guard needed a place for citizen-soldiers to qualify to shoot weapons, rain or shine, nearly every armory was equipped with an indoor firing range.

Whenever a soldier pulled the trigger, tiny bits of lead escaped. Lead in the bullet’s explosive primer, which ignites gunpowder, vaporized with each strike of the hammer. More lead flaked off as the slug careened down the barrel and hit its target.

Guard officials became aware in the 1980s that firing ranges, often built in unventilated basements, posed lead hazards. But it wasn’t until 1998 that the Guard was given written notice that it needed to change.

The Defense Department’s inspector general that year published an unprecedented look at the condition of National Guard armories and Army Reserve centers across the country. A team of investigators spent six months conducting interviews, reviewing safety inspections and personally visiting 21 indoor firing ranges.

Lorretta Swanson, one of the investigators, recalls quickly growing worried by what the team found: Soldiers and their families were being unnecessarily exposed to lead.

They concluded that senior National Guard leaders knew states were failing to clean contaminated ranges before repurposing them as kitchens, gyms and classrooms. In 12 facilities, lead had spread outside the firing ranges.

“I saw people tracking stuff all over,” Swanson said in a recent interview. “I thought it was serious. I thought they’d pay attention to it. But in reality, they weren’t.”

Guard leaders didn’t even know how many shooting ranges they had, much less which ones were contaminated. (The Guard’s best guess, 15 years later, was more than 700 of its 1,800 ranges were polluted.)

Swanson heard horror stories from armories around the country. Children had repeatedly played in sand in the back of firing ranges where lead bullets drop after hitting their targets. The sand is typically so contaminated that it is treated as hazardous waste.

Outside Baltimore, inspectors found exercise equipment and lockers inside a firing range that shooters still used. The inspectors designated the heavily contaminated room unsafe. Despite the warning, soldiers routinely unlocked the door to store personal belongings and to use the exercise equipment, which was covered in lead.

In Schenectady, New York, chemical defense masks were kept in a contaminated room. Lead spread to the kitchen.

The 1998 audit by the Department of Defense Inspector General found lead dust spreading beyond the confines of National Guard and reserve firing ranges.

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In Cottage Grove, Minnesota, medical supplies were stored on lead-covered shelves.

The scathing audit from Swanson’s team drew a definitive commitment from the Guard. Its leaders set a Feb. 28, 2010, deadline for states to clean up the buildings and report back to the inspector general.

The problem, it seemed, would be solved.

Inexplicable Failures
The Guard failed to achieve the simplest of goals after the 1998 audit.

Guard leaders responding to the inspector general’s report vowed to inventory every firing range by 2003. Yet as of 2015, the Guard still couldn’t say where they all were. A spokesman, Maj. Earl Brown, sent The Oregonian/OregonLive a list that accounted for the locations of just 201 ranges. That’s barely 10 percent of the firing ranges Guard officials say they owned.

The Guard didn’t heed the audit’s warning about lead spreading. In the years that followed, documents show, ranges weren’t cleaned as often as they were supposed to be. Soldiers swept up lead dust, sending it airborne, rather than vacuuming it with specialized equipment as they’d been instructed. Studies found that soldiers who cleaned the gun ranges and fired weapons in them had been exposed to more airborne lead than federal safety rules allow.

The sloppy maintenance had consequences.

Lead moved far beyond firing ranges, permeating ventilation systems and coating nearly every room in some armories, inspection reports show. The failure to contain the hazard wasn’t limited to just a handful of locations. Similar lapses happened from Oregon to Maine.

National Guard guidelines called for every armory with a former firing range to be inspected annually. But hundreds went years without being tested for lead because the Guard didn’t set aside enough money.

Firing ranges weren’t the only factor. Deteriorating lead paint, residue from weapons cleaning and the use of leaded fuel also left the toxic metal behind. But inspections show that the ranges were the most common source.

When lead was found, Guard officials responded slowly.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder this year deployed the National Guard to deliver clean water to residents of Flint, where public officials allowed dangerous levels of lead in the water system.

Yet Michigan National Guard officers let months pass while residents continued to use armories where 2015 inspection reports showed dangerous volumes of lead dust. One report explicitly warned the Michigan Guard to keep the public out.

At the Ypsilanti, Michigan, armory, a 2016 inspection found 349 micrograms of lead per square foot in the mezzanine area containing the ventilation system. The armory’s former firing range was converted to a locker room.

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Not until January, after The Oregonian/OregonLive started asking questions, did the Michigan Guard order 26 of its armories closed for cleaning. Michigan was not unique in leaving armories open after the discovery of widespread contamination. The Oregon National Guard also failed to close facilities as soon as lead was found. Neither state has an explanation for why officials allowed the public into contaminated buildings.

“I can’t tell you why the previous personnel didn’t stop that,” said Capt. Corissa Barton, a Michigan Guard spokeswoman. “I’m not sure I can really provide you much of an answer in terms of why it took the time that it did,” said Roy Swafford, the Salem official in charge of maintaining Oregon’s armories. But inspection records show that top Guard officers repeatedly were warned to shut buildings to the public.

One inspector, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said he knew lead was being tracked throughout the buildings but was powerless to do anything except sound repeated alarms.

“I wouldn’t take my kid out to an armory,” the inspector said.

Guard officials in 2013 estimated the problem rendered 2 million square feet of building space unusable. That’s roughly 35 football fields. Much of the contaminated space was used anyway.

The Guard’s central office determined in 2006 that 399 armories, spread around 26 states, had brought in kids for events. Guard officials didn’t identify which buildings were polluted, but told states to make sure children weren’t exposed.

The potential for harm was worrisome. The Guard found that children under 7 years old used 44 of the armories at least twice a week for three hours a day. Children of all ages routinely used 200 armories.

The Guard had to warn states not to keep infant formula and children’s toys in areas possibly contaminated by lead. Later inspections in Oregon, Ohio and South Dakota found toys stored on polluted shelves and floors, records show.

Tricycles and balls for a daycare were kept in a polluted former range in Thermopolis, Wyoming. In Milbank, South Dakota, the Guard didn’t fully decontaminate the armory’s firing range before converting it to storage for the adjoining high school’s gym equipment.

In the last 30 years, state Guard units converted at least 200 firing ranges into rooms where inspectors later found lead, records show. In at least seven states, old ranges became locker rooms with lead-contaminated lockers.

Civilian workers moved into one decommissioned facility, spending day after day in offices that turned out to be polluted. More than one got sick.

Montana’s Sick Building
Some days, David Bowers arrived home after work, weight of the world on his shoulders, took more pills for the sinus infections that never went away and sighed a question to his wife.

Why do I feel so tired all the time?

Every workday, his eyes hurt. His head ached. By afternoon, unrelenting fatigue set in. The environmental scientist couldn’t figure out why.

Bowers wasn’t alone.

Coworkers at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality developed similar health problems after the agency moved into Helena’s old art deco armory in 2003.

Steve Opp, an abandoned mines cleanup specialist, couldn’t shake the exhaustion that dogged him for years. “I basically felt sick, except when I was in the field at abandoned mine sites,” Opp said. His hands tingled inexplicably, bad enough that he got two surgeries.

When employees went home at night or were on vacation, they started feeling normal again. Then they returned to the World War II-era armory on a street named Last Chance Gulch, and the mysterious symptoms flared up.

Managers told them they just needed to get outside and take walks during the workday. But medical screenings revealed deeper concerns behind the men’s symptoms.

Opp and Bowers received annual workplace blood tests because their jobs required them to spend time at hazardous waste sites.

Tests showed the volume of lead in their blood, an indicator of recent exposure, increased to slightly above average as they spent more time in the building. Blood samples also showed high levels of a compound that can indicate chronic exposure.

Bowers spent hours researching potential causes of his health problems. Something finally clicked: The old indoor firing range. The space was now used as storage.

The Guard had cleaned the range in 1994, about six years before handing the armory over to the state.

But documents detailing the cleaning, obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive through a state records request, show the Guard didn’t ensure its own procedures were followed. Guard guidelines prohibited power-washing because the jet of water could drive lead deeper into the walls and floors. The range was power-washed anyway. The range was deemed clean without all the required tests.

The initial tenant to occupy the Helena armory after the military moved out, the Montana Revenue Department, reported workers suffering severe fatigue, dizziness, rashes, headaches, depression and chronic sinus infections. An inspector recommended a top-to-bottom cleaning of the dusty ventilation system.

Bowers had read the 1998 inspector general’s report flagging the Guard’s failures to control lead dust. He also knew his workplace did not seem clean. Dust used to hang so thick in the armory that it sparkled in the morning light. “Like walking into a barn,” he said.

He asked state officials to test for lead. They were reluctant, saying the old range wasn’t a likely source of problems.

“I don’t really think there is anything involved with the shooting range,” a state facilities manager told the Helena Independent Record newspaper in October 2012. “We have these kinds of indoor air quality concerns in quite a few of our buildings. It just so happened to be a shooting range in there.”

The testing Bowers sought finally occurred in October 2013. Inspectors found so much lead throughout the building’s ventilation system that 98 workers, including Bowers, were immediately evacuated. The highest lead level was 64 times above Montana’s safety goal.

When the state brought in Michael Kosnett, a University of Colorado Denver doctor with expertise in lead exposure, he concluded most workers weren’t at risk. But people who used two rooms where lead dust was found may have sustained more exposure, he wrote.

The areas that Kosnett identified included Room 121A, in the dank basement people called the dungeon, where Opp frequently researched the histories of abandoned mines. Bowers sporadically visited the other room identified as hazardous, part of the converted shooting range.

Dana Headapohl, a Missoula occupational health doctor who examined Opp and other armory occupants, said she didn’t see evidence of irreversible harm. She said lead wasn’t the building’s only problem. Some symptoms workers described could have been caused by other contaminants inside, including mold. But the lead exposure could’ve been prevented.

“What happened was avoidable,” Headapohl said. “The DEQ knew what the building had been used for previously and could’ve assured it was properly evaluated and cleaned up.”

“Cleaned Up” Doesn’t Mean Finished
The nation’s legacy of toxic armories will linger as long as the buildings stand.

Cleanings continue across the country. The National Guard in September 2015 again ordered states to inventory their armories with firing ranges. The Guard instructed states to inspect every armory for lead and keep the public out of buildings that tested high. But the Guard did not set a deadline or announce any financial commitment to ensure the order was followed.

It’s unclear how much a one-time cleaning would cost. Ohio spent $3 million to clean its armories last year. Oregon estimates that cleaning and converting its indoor gun ranges will cost $21.6 million.

Even if they can find the money to pay for all the work, Guard officials everywhere will need to recheck the armories — every year, unless the buildings are torn down — to ensure lead doesn’t re-emerge, as it has in cleaning after cleaning.

In Montana, David Bowers has recovered from his fatigue and other ailments since leaving the contaminated armory in 2013. But he remains frustrated about the experience.

“Our air was a toxic soup,” Bowers said. “It had mold in it, it had metals in it. We were in a sick building. That building was never meant to be an office building.”

The Montana Guard, even when presented with clear evidence that the Helena armory still had lead, failed to inspect other armories with firing ranges that the Guard said it had cleaned the same year.

The buildings were finally tested in November 2015, in response to The Oregonian/OregonLive‘s inquiries. Sure enough, five turned up contaminated, despite the earlier scrubbing: Butte, Sidney, Glasgow, Hamilton and Lewistown.

Montana Guard Maj. Christopher Lende said his agency is currently looking for money to pay for a new cleanup.

Mary Ann Dunwell, the former Montana environmental worker who got sick, went on to win election to the Montana Legislature.

Her lead level, the highest measured at the Helena armory, was still at 8 micrograms per deciliter a year after leaving. That’s enough to decrease kidney function, raise blood pressure and create tremors in the hand, according to a sweeping federal review of lead research. A child with that much bloodborne lead would lose an average of six IQ points, studies have found.

Dunwell still worries about the long-term health effects from her lead exposure. She has pushed a bill that would require government agencies to test new buildings for contamination before allowing workers to occupy them. The bill hasn’t gotten out of committee.

Lorretta Swanson, the Defense Department investigator who identified widespread problems at Guard armories in 1998, moved to another federal agency after finishing the audit. She didn’t know what became of its recommendations.

Neither the inspector general nor U.S. Army officials could produce a single page of documents when The Oregonian/OregonLive asked to see how the recommendations were addressed.

Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said the report had been closed. Contacted by The Oregonian/OregonLive, Swanson was flabbergasted. “I’ve never in my life heard of someone closing a report until they had proof it was accomplished,” she said.

Swanson was seven years into her career in federal service when the report was released. She retired in September without anyone heeding her team’s call to make the nation’s armories safe.


Toxic Armories reporter wins Scripps Howard Foundation award
Reporter Rob Davis spent 18 months exposing lead contamination at hundreds of National Guard armories around the United States.

National Guard halts public events in all contaminated armories
Dec. 13, 2016 | The Guard’s sweeping action comes just a week after an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found lead dust had contaminated armories nationwide.

Gov. Kate Brown sets deadline after “unacceptable” handling of armories
Oregon military officials said they have no plans to discipline the person responsible for maintaining the state’s armories.

Oregon’s congressional delegation seeks hearings on Pentagon’s armory response
The state’s bipartisan congressional delegation said they wanted answers following The Oregonian/OregonLive‘s investigation of the National Guard’s toxic armories.

Lead on floor of Oregon armory where loophole lets children play
A public health official said children shouldn’t be allowed in the building until it’s proven safe.

Oregon wants $21 million from feds to pay for armory cleanup
The Oregon military has also vastly increased disclosure about its toxic armories.

Lead poisoning in armories? Military cases poorly tracked

More reaction and updates from around the country
In New Jersey, a lawmaker pushes for disclosure of National Guard records. In Massachusetts, governor calls for a follow-up on The Oregonian/OregonLive‘s findings.

Solutions What are the answers to Toxic Armories?

Download our data, help us dig
The Oregonian/OregonLive amassed more than 23,000 pages of public records and inspection reports to build a database of lead contamination in America’s armories. We’re urging journalists and members of the public to carry the reporting forward in communities across the country.

6 things we learned about America’s toxic armories
We spent 18 months digging into lead contamination in National Guard nationwide. Here’s what we learned.

FAQ: A parent’s guide to lead in America’s armories

Things to know before you visit a National Guard armory
While the National Guard has told states to clean armories, it hasn’t announced a deadline or dedicated funding.

A photographer’s choices on Toxic Armories

Has your family visited one of the Toxic Armories?
An investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found that hundreds of armories have been contaminated with lead dust. If you’ve spent time at your local armory in recent years, we want to hear from you.

Staff members behind Toxic Armories
Producing The Oregonian/OregonLive investigative series, “Toxic Armories,” was a newsroom-wide effort. Meet the creators.

Breathing lead at work: Limit is based on 1978 science
When the Oregon Military Department closed public access to armories last year to clean up lead dust, state officials allowed workers to continue using most buildings. The rationale: Tests inside the buildings showed levels of airborne lead within federal workplace safety limits. But a doctor and a public health official who study lead said those limits are outdated.

Toxic Armories: Tell us what you think
In Oregon alone, tens of thousands of people have spent time in toxic armories, The Oregonian/OregonLive‘s investigation found. Read the series, and let us know what questions you still have.

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