Makarau gun club lead pollution concerns

A stream running directly behind ranges are among residents  concerns over lead leaching into groundwater from the ...
Delwyn Dickey

A stream running directly behind ranges are among residents concerns over lead leaching into groundwater from the Auckland Shooting Club.

The possibility of lead from spent ammunition leaching into the ground water at the Auckland Shooting Club has alarmed some locals in rural Makarau.

As awareness of the potential problem has grown, they are angry that Auckland Council did not required any provisions to mitigate lead leaching into the surrounding area when the club's certificate of compliance was granted.

A small stream on the property runs close to already formed shooting ranges, then into wetlands. 

Different ammunition produces different amounts of lead.

Different ammunition produces different amounts of lead.

After the nearby Vipassana Meditation Centre challenged the certificate of compliance for the club through the High Court, Justice Christian Whata referred it back to council after finding two "minor" flaws including that no assessment had been done on possible lead discharges. 

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Normally this would have seen the certificate quashed, Justice Whata said but, as land owners Raymond O'Brien and Victoria Pichler had acted in good faith when setting up the club based on the certificate, he instead sent the application back to council to reconsider.

Earth bunds surround ranges on three sides while  gravel covers the bottom of the ranges.
Delwyn Dickey

Earth bunds surround ranges on three sides while gravel covers the bottom of the ranges.

A discharge consent may now be needed, as it was with the Wairarapa Gun Club recently, to discharge contaminants. There was staunch opposition to a new range at that club, with beekeepers in the area concerned foraging bees could bring lead dust back to their hives and contaminate honey. 

The certificate allows the Auckland Shooting Club to operate every day of the year for 8 hours a day with 18 ranges able to be built. O'Brien and Pichler anticipate up to 12 will be built before a resource consent would be needed.

"We are currently working with the applicants to determine the potential level of any contamination, as directed by the court," Manager Northern Resource Consenting Ian Dobson said.

"Until we have sufficient information we cannot confirm any requirement for a discharge consent."

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But those hoping this will shut down the club may be disappointed.

"We are working with the certificate holder to ensure compliance with the certificate," Dobson said.

It's only in recent years the impact of lead pollution from shooting ranges has come under the spotlight.

Lead can have serious impacts on the body including damage to the brain and nervous system, kidney damage and cause spontaneous abortions.  

The most serious source is lead coming from dust off ammunition as it's fired, being inhaled at indoor shooting ranges including by instructors and other people who work there, so good ventilation is a must. The dust settling on their clothes during the day has also been linked to health problems in their family members at home.

Levels of lead in the blood can take months to return to normal. This is of particular concern for pregnant women, as it can affect the developing baby, and children, whose bones are still growing.

Workers and shooters at outdoor sites aren't as badly affected. 

But spent ammunition on the ground and in the earth build up over time, contaminating outdoor shooting ranges with lead leaching into the surrounding environment. Lead from shot and rounds starts to corrode on contact with the soil, with the residue able to be flushed into ground water during rain.

Dr Corinne Rooney with Lincoln University in her research on outdoor shooting ranges found, while uncontaminated soil can have up to 10 milligrams of lead per kilogram of soil, shooting range soils can have more than 10,000 milligrams of lead.

Lead shot can take 10,000 years to break down in temperate climates, she found, so only tiny amounts are being released at a time. But, that lead accumulates over the years and will be a source of leaching for hundreds of years into the future.

This has Makarau residents concerned there is the potential for residue to get into aquifers used for drinking water.

"We get a lot of rain in this valley," neighbour Stu Finch said. 

"The stream runs down through the valley and ends up around Burnside road where people take their water from bores," he says.

The type of ammunition makes a difference. Shotguns produce the most lead and pistols the least.

A new gun site probably won't be producing much residue initially research on three gun clubs in Canterbury by Rooney suggests.  

As the amount of lead from ammunition in the soil accumulates leaching becomes much more pronounced particularly when lead shot is used.

Rooney looked at chemically washing the soil to get rid of lead residue but recommended stopping any contact between the lead and the soil.

While pistol shooting only is allowed under the Auckland Shooting Club certificate council has been looking into noise complaints that suggest rifles or shotguns are also being used.

There may also be other problems with the certificate.

The ranges have been approved for use by the police and include a large fence, set up between the ranges and buildings. The fence is to protect club users should any small shards of metal fly off when rounds are fired O'Brien advised.

But at approximately 4 metres high the size of the fence has also been queried

"The certificate of compliance application anticipated the use of fencing and earth bunds on the site, however we will look in to the matter and establish whether there is a need for a resource consent with regards to this fence," Dobson said.

"The certificate should never have been granted," Finch said. "As a resident it feels like the shooting club has more rights than we do. We were here first - they have invaded our sanctuary." 

 - Stuff

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