Environmental team performs lead dust sampling at excess Army Reserve Center

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
Published Sept. 1, 2020

Indoor firing ranges may pose a setback in the disposal process of multiple U.S. Army Reserve properties nationwide. Some 50 Army Reserve properties are slated for lead dust sampling.

The Louisville District Environmental Branch team recently collected samples at the former Trembley-White Army Reserve Center in Kansas City, Kansas, which has been vacant since 2017 and was previously used for administrative and training purposes.

“These excess properties are no longer needed by the Army Reserve, so they need to be disposed of,” said Rhiannon Ryan, Environmental Branch environmental scientist. “We have an obligation under CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act) to let the new owner know the environmental condition of the property and possible contamination.”

While the team completed sampling in the Kansas City facility, the results are pending.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals, causing health effects.

In the case of Army Reserve centers that had indoor firing ranges, the lead was emitted into the air and settled from the repetitive use of firing weapons, as per Daniel Allgeier, Environmental Support Section project manager. 

These indoor firing ranges featured dedicated air handling systems designed to remove lead dust from the interior of the building.

“There may be some residual lead dust that doesn’t get picked up by the air handling unit, which is why we are currently investigating the buildings with the sampling effort,” said Evan Willett, Environmental Branch environmental engineer. “Lead is dense and does settle onto floors, walls and other horizontal surfaces.”

Traces of lead can remain in dust on floors and window sills despite activities to clean areas to make them safe for children. 

The EPA announced June 17, 2020, a proposal to lower the amount of lead that can remain in dust on floors and window sills after lead removal activities, from 40 micrograms per square foot (µg/ft2) to 10 µg/ft2 for floors, and from 250 µg/ft2 to 100 µg/ft2 for window sills.

“We need to know if we have lead dust present at the decreased lead dust hazard standards,” Willett said. “This is why we are going into numerous facilities nationwide to sample some new locations and resample some other locations that were previously assessed based on the higher standards.” 

According to the EPA, the proposed, tighter standards increase the effectiveness of lead-based paint removal in pre-1978 homes and childcare facilities, known as abatement, and lower the risk of lead exposure by ensuring that lead-based paint hazards are effectively and permanently eliminated following completion of the work.

“We support our customer – the Army Reserve; we provide review and oversight of work done by contractors, making sure the job they do in characterizing these facilities for lead dust is complete, taking it to the next step if abatement is required – we continue with that oversight,” said Cynthia Esterle, Environmental Branch geologist.

New processes to remove potentially harmful lead means making these structures safer for future use experts said.

“We are helping by performing lead dust samplings at multiple facilities across the country in order to fully characterize the extent of lead dust contamination throughout the facilities,” Willett said. “If there are concentrations that exceed the action limits, we will pursue lead dust abatement at those sites (on behalf of our Army Reserve customer).”

Rendering Reserve centers safe, gets them back to work as repurposed facilities for their communities. 

“We are excited to get the field work underway,” Willett said. “With such a large project, multiple points of contact, and so many facilities spread across the United States, communication is really key. Our contractors are the ones who reached out to facilities and the readiness divisions to coordinate most of the field work. That takes a huge burden off of us.”

The Louisville District is the Center of Expertise for Army Reserve center construction. It is the nationwide program manager for construction of new Army Reserve centers in the U.S. and its territories.