Recent investigative reports indicate serious lead dust contamination in more than 400 National Guard armories across 41 states, including one armory in Minnesota
In a letter to Chairman Cochran and Vice Chairman Durbin, Klobuchar and the group of senators urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide adequate funding to support state Adjutants General as they work to remove this threat to the health of our citizen soldiers, their families, and the general public
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and a group of senators have called on the Senate Appropriations Committee to boost funding to decontaminate lead-tainted National Guard armories and readiness centers. In December 2016, The Oregonian published a series of investigative articles exposing serious lead dust contamination in more than 400 National Guard armories across 41 states, including one in Minnesota, and there is evidence that the problem may be even more widespread. In a letter to Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Vice Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), Klobuchar and the group of senators urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide adequate funding to support the success of state Adjutants General as they work to remove this threat to the health of our citizen soldiers, their families, and the general public.
“National Guard armories across our nation are used to maintain unit readiness, for recruiting prospective enlistments, and for sustaining family support programs,” the senators wrote. “As you begin to consider the Fiscal Year 2018 Department of Defense Appropriations bill, we urge you to provide adequate funding to support the success of state Adjutants General as they work to remove this threat to the health of our citizen soldiers, their families, and the general public from National Guard armories associated with indoor firing ranges.”
Klobuchar has worked in a bipartisan manner to modernize G.I. Bill benefits for our troops and to strengthen funding veterans’ health care. She has also authored bipartisan bills on behalf of our nation’s veterans and their families to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, expand job training and employment opportunities, cut red tape and wait times for veterans scheduling appointments at VA Medical Facilities, and to reduce veterans’ homelessness.
Last month, Klobuchar introduced the bipartisan Sinai Service Recognition Act with Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) to give Sinai stationed Minnesota National Guard and Reserve servicemembers full benefits. She also introduced the bipartisan Savings for Servicemembers Act with Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) to help National Guard members and reservists to cut out-of-pocket costs for travel to required training and drills. In February, Klobuchar introduced the Educational Development (ED) for Troops and Veterans Act to provide education benefits to servicemembers who often have to leave behind schools, jobs, and homes to serve their country.
In addition to Klobuchar, this letter was signed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Gary Peters (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).
The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Chairman Cochran and Vice Chairman Durbin:
As the Senate Appropriations Committee considers the Fiscal Year 2018 Department of Defense Appropriations bill, we write to request adequate funding for the National Guard Bureau’s efforts to remediate lead contamination in Army National Guard armories and readiness centers in several states across the country.
National Guard armories across our nation are used to maintain unit readiness, for recruiting prospective enlistments, and for sustaining family support programs. Our armories provide a vital linkage for community events, job fairs, and deployment ceremonies. The armories also become the center of gravity for responding to natural disasters such as flooding, forest fires, and earthquakes. The buildings either become the staging area for the National Guard to assist first responders or they are available for emergency managers to establish warming shelters and logistics centers. Challenging state budgets also require the states to rent armories for concerts, weddings, baby showers, baptisms, and other events to assist in paying the state share of the National Guard Bureau Agreement. Yet, like other important national infrastructure, our armories are deteriorating and require significant maintenance.
In December 2016, The Oregonian published a series of investigative articles exposing serious lead dust contamination from indoor firing ranges in more than 400 armories in 41 states. This is by no means comprehensive. Journalists requested records from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but only 41 states returned documents. More troublingly, inspectors also found toxic material outside 192 of those contaminated firing ranges. This might be the tip of the iceberg. According to one article, more than 700 armories have not been inspected since 2012, despite requirements to do so.
This contamination potentially exposed Americans. Poisonous lead powder coated “a Wisconsin armory classroom where pregnant women and mothers with infants learned about nutrition.” And, at two armories in Oregon, “parents unwittingly let infants crawl” on floors covered in lead at levels as high as 10 times the federal safety standard.
Shortly after the articles were published, the National Guard Bureau ordered the immediate closure of all indoor firing ranges and the discontinuation of community events in armories that still require lead remediation. The Bureau also ordered all active and former indoor firing ranges to be cleaned in accordance with standards set out in 2006, and noted that the cost of cleanup “would be 100 percent Federal share.” However, the Bureau has not yet clarified how federal funding will be allocated for these initiatives. There are indications that ultimately, state Adjutants General will be asked to divert existing federal funds for cleanup efforts. For example, the Oregon and Wisconsin National Guards, which have taken aggressive steps to mitigate lead dust exposure and put safety measures in place, have already exhausted their relevant FY17 federal funds and continue to pay out of pocket for remediation. Scarce local readiness funding will only help manage the problem—not solve it. Indeed, state Guards do not have the money to cover the costs of ideal lead abatement options like permanent remediation and encapsulation, which would total an estimated $4.8 million in Wisconsin alone.
On top of lead abatement costs, there are conversion costs to make the space usable (i.e. as a locker room or storage). The Bureau has stated that conversion costs will follow the normal 50/50 state to federal cost share. While a short-term solution of discontinuing the public use of the armories may address some of the immediate public health issue, it is likely to create a significant readiness challenge for Army National Guard units that will continue to deploy regardless of the size of their budgets.
Issues with contamination at National Guard armories are not a new problem. In 1998, the Department of Defense Inspector General found that Army National Guard soldiers and Army Reservists used unsafe indoor firing ranges contaminated by lead. This issue will remain a public health challenge that state Adjutants General will have to fund using readiness dollars unless Congress and the Department of Defense clearly allocate funding exclusively for this purpose.
The closure of armories associated with indoor firing ranges also involves hidden costs. For instance, until lead abatement has been accomplished, many state military departments will be unable to rent or have the public access a number of its armories. This presents additional costs to states, as rentals are a key revenue stream, allowing states like Oregon to help self-fund the required 50 percent state-share of armories’ operational costs. Just in Oregon, the state is on track to lose approximately $300,000 in revenue for 2016-2017 due to lead-related closures. Thus, even without diverting funds, the lead contamination problem is already hurting existing funding.
As you begin to consider the Fiscal Year 2018 Department of Defense Appropriations bill, we urge you to provide adequate funding to support the success of state Adjutants General as they work to remove this threat to the health of our citizen soldiers, their families, and the general public from National Guard armories associated with indoor firing ranges.
Thank you for your consideration.