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EPA allows lead bullets on National Guard range

The Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that it will permit restricted use of lead bullets at the Massachusetts National Guard firing range on Cape Cod, saying the 18-month test program will evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative system to capture the ammunition.

Under a trial program, the National Guard is required to recycle spent lead ammunition, test soil and ground water annually, and examine water found 4 to 5 feet below the soil surface three times a year, the federal agency said. The findings must be reported to state and federal environmental authorities.

The measures are intended to ensure that soil and water supplies are not affected by reintroduction of lead bullets to the range, 10 years after the ammunition was banned because of environmental concerns at Camp Edwards in Bourne.

Camp Edwards will be one of only a few military bases in the country to use a new system in which test range bullets are encased within two rubber membranes and surrounded by a layer of granulated rubber, according to the EPA.

The STAPP Environmental Bullet Catcher' prevents the ammunition from reaching and contaminating the surrounding soil and water.

The EPA banned lead at the base in 1997 and ordered the National Guard to investigate possible contamination. Of 13 wells drilled to test for lead contamination, only one turned up small traces of lead.

The Army's research concluded that rainwater quickly drains through the sandy soil, reducing the amount of time lead bullets are exposed to water, which causes them to corrode and ultimately leach into the ground water.

The Guard's report estimates that it could take 1,000 years for the lead to reach the ground water under current conditions.