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Baltimore County

EPA fines Baltimore County Police over hazardous waste violations at shooting range in Timonium

The Baltimore County Police Department will pay a $15,800 penalty after the federal Environmental Protection Agency discovered issues with its handling of lead waste from bullets at a Timonium shooting range, the federal agency announced Thursday.

The range, located adjacent to the Loch Raven Reservoir at 2001 Dulaney Valley Road, generated thousands more pounds of lead waste than it was authorized to on several occasions, and had inadequate training programs and emergency plans for employees handling the hazardous waste, according to the agency.

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The EPA flagged the issues in December 2020, in a letter warning that the facility’s records showed it had generated far more hazardous waste than allowable in October and November of 2018, and asking for more information. In a response letter dated March 2021, the police department stated that a contractor had mined the berm at the outdoor firing range in those months, and removed more than 500,000 pounds of contaminated dirt containing lead bullets.

According to the EPA letter, the firing range was considered a “very small quantity generator” of hazardous waste, limiting it to 1,000 kilograms (or about 2,200 pounds) of waste per month. The removal of the berm caused the facility to exceed its limit. By November 2021, the EPA had issued an official notice of potential violation to the police department.

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The agency’s review found that the police department’s emergency plan for the hazardous waste generated at the facility was missing required elements, such as a description of emergency arrangements agreed to by local first responders, an up-to-date list of emergency coordinators and an evacuation plan. The EPA’s review also found that the department’s training program for employees at the facility did not specifically address the handling, storage and disposal of hazardous waste generated at the facility.

In a statement, Sean Naron, spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., said the county “remains committed to working with federal partners to ensure all procedures for waste disposal are fully-followed to protect human safety and environmental health.”

Naron said the county has entered into an agreement with the EPA with the goal of ensuring future compliance at the range, following what he called a “recordkeeping issue.”

He said the issues arose when the county disposed of the contaminated dirt from the berm in 2018 without filing the proper paperwork. The county is in the process of obtaining mechanical bullet traps to replace the earthen berm, so that the issue won’t arise again in the future, Naron said. Funds have been allocated in the fiscal year 2023 budget for design, he added. The county also is in the process of updating its training and contingency plans, Naron said.

The aging shooting range, built in 1966, has become a source of frustration for county police officers and retirees, who use it to complete required shooting certifications and practice firing their weapons, said Dave Sweren, vice president of the county’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #4. The FOP is calling for the county to replace it.

In 2015, the facility was cited by Maryland Occupational Safety and Health for lead violations in its indoor shooting range, after state inspectors found employees were exposed to lead concentrations far above federal standards. Some reported elevated lead levels in their blood during testing. Afterward, the county pledged to spend $500,000 on a new ventilation system for the building.

Still, the indoor range isn’t always open for officers to use, Sweren said.

“They can’t seem to have a consistent system that’s working there,” he said. “So it’s been reopened and closed several times since they’ve been trying to correct it over the last several years.”

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In his statement, Naron said the indoor range has been upgraded with new shooting lanes, bullet traps, a moving target system, and HVAC with air filtering system. The range is regularly tested, and is closed periodically to be cleaned, he added.

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But even when it’s open, the building is less than ideal, Sweren said. The restrooms are in poor condition and the water isn’t drinkable, he said.

“It’s time for a more modern, up-to-date facility with the proper equipment,” Sweren said.

The outdoor shooting area hasn’t fared much better, said Sweren, noting that the berm officers shoot into requires frequent upkeep.

“You’ll start getting sprayed with mud, or you’ll start getting some rounds that start to kind of bounce back,” Sweren said. “So, that’s when they know they have to re-dig out the berm.”

The county’s March 2021 letter indicated it had to mine the outdoor berm again in 2020, when a county contractor recovered 10,553 pounds of lead bullets, which were recycled for reuse.

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As a result of the facility’s woes, Baltimore County officers looking to spend extra time practicing with their weapons can’t always access it, and may turn to private facilities, Sweren said. The range on Dulaney Valley Road is the only county-owned firing facility available to officers, he said.

“Each person’s been told since they came on the job: ‘You get at least one box a month if you want to come up to the range to shoot for practice,’” Sweren said. “That said, because of all the issues, it’s never available.”


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