City-owned gun range operated for years with toxic lead levels, Sacramento auditor says

Some regular users say they were never told of the contamination risks

Guns don’t kill people. Lead poisoning does.

A city-owned gun range has exhibited hazardous levels of lead on multiple occasions since at least 2006. While the city knew about the contamination, it failed to notify users of the potential health and environmental risks, and allowed the range to continue operating until recently, according to city documents obtained by SN&R.

Located to the south of the city, the James G. Mangan Rifle and Pistol Range has been closed since Christmas Eve. The decision was made after City Auditor Jorge Oseguera outlined numerous concerns to city officials following a complaint to his office’s whistleblower hotline late last year. But the range remained open to the public for years with high levels of lead contamination, Oseguera told SN&R.

A claim has been filed against the city, and one regular client says her company was never told about the exposure—even after the city informed them they’d have to find a new place to target-shoot. “Pardon my French, but it does piss me off,” Vicci Gritz, operations manager at Universal Security Academy, wrote in an email. “We used the range for many years and NO ONE ever said anything about having concerns about the health issues.”

Gritz provided a copy of the letter her company received from the Parks and Recreation Department at the beginning of this year. It makes no mention of lead levels, saying only that the facility is being temporarily closed to “implement recommendations” regarding cleanliness and maintenance.

The letter does, however, include links to generic warnings from the California Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about lead exposure at indoor firing ranges.

While the Parks and Recreation letter glosses over the reasons for the range’s closure, other internal documents do not. According to a city auditor letter obtained through the California Public Records Act, a consultant’s risk assessment revealed in November of last year that lead levels at the indoor facility exceeded hazard benchmarks, “in some instances by thousands of micrograms per square foot.”

To put it in perspective, the state’s benchmark for indoor floor surfaces is 40 micrograms per square foot. The assessment, by Entek Consulting Group, measured 17,000 micrograms per square foot, Oseguera writes in his January 14 letter to City Manager John Shirey. Lead was also measured at 42,000 grams per square foot along the ceiling.

Entek found abnormally high lead-dust contamination on “virtually every interior surface, as well as some areas of the roof nearest the fans that exhaust air from the gun range area,” a separate document states.

Alarming as these findings are, they paint an incomplete picture of the true health risk. Entek’s assessment didn’t test indoor air quality or soil contamination, Oseguera’s letter notes. But lead primarily enters the body through inhalation and ingestion, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes.

“Today, adults are mainly exposed to lead by breathing in lead-containing dust and fumes at work, or from hobbies that involve lead,” OSHA says on its website. Exposure can lead to “neurological effects, gastrointestinal effects, anemia, and kidney disease.”

The auditor’s letter names seven groups that regularly used the range, including American River College. Representatives from the Universal Security and California Security Training academies said their staffs and students used the range weekly, and sometimes more.

As co-founder of the California Security Training Academy, Peggy Seaman-Caballero frequented the indoor range for decades. She told SN&R she experienced eye irritation and allergies during the 1990s and early 2000s. But those symptoms stopped when her company switched to higher-quality ammunition. “It didn’t bother me at all [after that],” she said.

Universal Security had used the range since 2000. Gritz wasn’t concerned about lead exposure until SN&R shared with her a copy of Oseguera’s letter. “We obviously relied on the City to be honest and upfront with everyone and notify the users of the range if there were any issues,” she wrote in her email. “Besides those of us who were physically at the range and inhaled lead, most of us have families and could have possibly brought this crap home on our clothing to our spouses and kids.”

The auditor noted other problems with how the range was operated, which the city says was managed by the United Revolver Club of Sacramento. Oseguera’s letter faulted the Parks and Recreation Department for irregularly collecting fees and not tracking revenue until last year. A site visit also revealed that the rear door to the range was secured by nothing more than a pencil-length slide lock, even though one group stored firearms on the premises.

CSTA had used the range since Seaman-Caballero’s husband started the company 43 years ago, she said. During most of that time, she says the range was run by George Larrabee. “Everybody adored him,” she said.

But Seaman-Caballero says there had been no on-site management since Larrabee died a few years ago. (She believed he suffered lead-related health issues, but that his death was unrelated.) Instead, the city directed users, like CSTA, to count the number of people they brought to the range, and to put the appropriate amount of money in a box, she said. Seaman-Caballero says there were problems with the method, and that questions to city officials weren’t always answered.

Asked if she got the impression the city wasn’t interested in operating the range, she answered, “Yes, I got that sense.”

Oseguera summarized his findings at an August 6 Sacramento City Council subcommittee meeting. While Mayor Kevin Johnson, Vice Mayor Allen Warren and Councilman Rick Jennings asked no questions about the report, they voiced support for bolstering the City Auditor’s Office’s staff, which has been juggling numerous investigations between three employees.

As for the range, which was built in 1960, some are hoping it will reopen. The United Revolver Club recently hosted a Fourth of July barbecue at Mangan Park to discuss its future. Meanwhile, Seaman-Caballero says her company could be interested in operating it for the city. “A lot of people consider it historical,” she said. “And they miss it. They miss it very much.”

But reopening it may be unlikely. The city plans to request proposals in the future, a spokeswoman said. But a March facility assessment, from DLR Group, pegs the cost of bringing the one-story structure up to code at just north of $1.7 million.

“The City currently does not have the funding to invest in the full rehabilitation of the Gun Range,” spokeswoman Maria C. “Marycon” Razo wrote in an email. “The City is concerned that the cost of the improvements will be beyond the ability for an operator to fund.”