The Izaak Walton League, the conservation group that operates the only shooting range in Loudoun County, has begun cleaning up and recycling lead from spent ammunition.
The cleanup complies with an agreement signed in January by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Association of Shooting Ranges and the league, which manages ranges in a dozen states, to prevent lead contamination of soil and water on range grounds.
EPA officials said the agreement could lead to removal nationwide of 100,000 pounds of lead from expended shot and bullets that most ranges just leave on the ground. Excessive amounts of lead can harm humans and animals.
Wayne Lee, president of the league's Loudoun chapter, said the range on Mountain Springs Lane south of Leesburg began drafting a lead cleanup program two years ago and implemented it in 2002 before the agreement was signed. The chapter operates and maintains rifle, pistol, skeet and archery ranges on the 88-acre site, as well as nature trails, pavilions, camping sites and a five-acre pond for its 800 members and their families.
Herb Goodfellow Sr., the chapter's skeet range chairman, said backstops and berms have been installed on the rifle and pistol range so bullets can be collected and recycled.
Soil samples are taken regularly from the skeet range's drop zone, the area of highest concentration of lead shot pellets, to test for lead contamination, and water samples are taken from the pond and stream to make sure that lead has not leached into them.
Lime is spread periodically over the drop zone to keep acid in the soil and rainwater from breaking down the lead. Leaves that fall from the trees provide a natural layer of mulch, which also prevents breakdown, Goodfellow said.
The chapter also requires skeet range users to use size nine shot, which minimizes the size of the drop zone.
Jay Clark, national shooting sports coordinator for the Izaak Walton League, said that because of the large differences in topography and cleanup methods, some ranges make a profit recycling lead while others do not.
"Depending on the price of lead, the cleanup can actually be very profitable for a range," he said, adding that one range in Carroll County, Md., made $20,000 a few years ago even after reclamation costs.
Most states have metal recycling facilities that pay varying rates depending on the cleanliness of the lead and its current price. The lead can be recycled into batteries or back into ammunition.
Lee said lead cleanup and recycling has not been profitable for the Loudoun chapter. Although members have performed much of the labor, Goodfellow said the chapter spent more than $100,000 renovating the rifle range so it could collect the lead for recycling. Enough lead to send to a recycling facility will not be available for at least a few years, he said.