Gun Range Exposes Workers to Excessive Lead

February 25, 2013

Toxic substance lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report of a gun range that exposed more than 150 workers to lead poisoning. Blood tests showed excessive lead exposure, leading to numerous investigations and a lawsuit.

748869_construction_in_process.jpgSome are calling the lead exposure in Bellevue, Washington a historical case and the first of its kind. In September 2012, Wade's Eastside Guns began to remodel, hiring S.D. Deacon as the general contractor. Deacon employees started on the job and two months later, two iron workers started developing tremors, severe headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, irritability, and lost appetite.

These symptoms are all associated with acute lead exposure, which is the leading cause of workplace illness in the United States. The two ironworkers went to the doctor for blood sampling and found that their blood lead levels were dangerously excessive. So much so, that they had to be pulled of the gun range job.

Wade's Guns employees heard about the incident and many went to get tested, citing seemingly mysterious health issues. In total, at least 47 construction and gun range employees showed excessive blood lead levels, and 24 workers showed signs of acute lead exposure. Test results from the other 63 workers were not made available. Each state sets its own standards for lead presence in homes and facilities over which point removal efforts must be made. One construction worker, who frequently vomited while on the job, showed blood lead levels more than three times higher than Washington's standards for removal.

Abatement crews were immediately brought into the construction site, and even removed lead from workers' homes, cars and hotel rooms. At least three women and two children tested positive for excessive lead, which was likely brought home on the clothes, boots and tools of construction workers. Lead exposure is most dangerous in young children, who can more easily develop learning disabilities, decreased bone and muscle growth, kidney damage, and nerve disorders.

The lawsuit was filed by former and current employees of Wade's, who are arguing that the gun range violated safety laws, sickened its employees, and washed lead wastes down storm drains and onto hillsides. Wade Gaughran, the range's owner, stated that he does not believe any workers were permanently harmed by the lead exposure, and denies knowledge of improper or illegal waste disposal.

Construction workers say that they were never given any instruction or warnings about how to stay safe from lead exposure, were never required to wear protective gear, and decontamination areas were never made available. If these claims are true, it would be a major violation of both state and federal laws, which is why the Department of Labor and Industries is currently conducting an investigation.

Other investigations are being performed by the Department of Ecology and the Seattle and King County Public Health Department. The Ecology Department is determining whether soil and storm drains were contaminated and the County Departments are checking into potential exposure in workers' families and Wade's costumers.

Lead ejects from guns when they are shot, and bullets containing lead can often shatter on impact. At Wade's, a 10-foot sand berm stops the bullets being shot, and has accumulated lead dust since the range opened in 1996, never being officially cleaned. Workers say thick lead dust covered nearly every corner of the range. In 2010, employees started showing symptoms of lead exposure, and the Department of labor opened an investigation. They found that workers were exposed to lead by sweeping and shoveling the lead sand into the berm, and fined Wade's only $350.

Wade Gaughran claims that the safety of the construction workers was the contractor's responsibility. During the construction job, workers would move the lead sand to the parking lot with front-loaders, where the lead was sifted out. The contaminated material was then moved into semi trucks to be brought to a recycler. Every time a loader scooped up the sand, plumes of the lead dust would fill the room, covering workers in the silver dust.

Investigations are expected to last about six months. Unfortunately, the construction industry has one of the highest risks of lead poisoning. Too often, facilities like Wade's do not take lead contamination seriously enough to comply with state regulations, and subject not only their own workers but customers, and maintenance and constructions workers alike to the harmful substance.

If you believe you or your family was exposed to lead, you may be entitled to compensation by those who are responsible. Lead exposure lawyers at Pintas & Mullins have extensive experience in cases involving toxic substances, and will ensure that you receive the best representation and largest settlement possible.