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Report: Lead pellets at shooting range pose risks

Lead pellets fired at a local shooting range pose a threat to public health and the environment, says a report released Friday by a consumer watchdog group.

"There is no safe level of lead, and children are at the greatest risk," said Bill Newton, executive director of the Florida Consumer Action Network.

The group cited a lawsuit filed in April by the state Department of Environmental Protection, or DEP, that asks the Skyway Trap and Skeet Club to stop shooting and pay at least $15,000 to clean up a site near Sawgrass Lake.

The suit comes more than a year after the club slowed shooting to about 10 percent of its normal activity because of a similar suit filed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud.

The bullets are not falling directly into Sawgrass Lake but in a body of water that flows into the lake. There, the groundwater, surface water and soil create an "imminent hazard," according to a the DEP suit.

"There is extensive contamination . . . that threatens the health and safety of human life and the environment," the complaint filed by the DEP said.

As long as people do not drink the lake water and continue to respect fishing and swimming restrictions, they are not threatened, said Beth Knauss, a DEP environmental manager.

"It's not a threat to the public if people are aware of it," she said.

Plants and animals in the area are at significant risk, Knauss said. There is visible damage to plants, and birds soon will be tested for contamination.

"(The site) is an ongoing source of pollution to the lake, and eventually the bay, which we can't allow to continue," Knauss said.

The Skyway Trap and Skeet Club has been shooting since 1947 and does not plan to stop now, said Robert Kelly, the attorney representing the club, 3200 74th Ave N.

The 13-acre site that contains the bullet drop zone was taken from the club by Swiftmud to create a water management site in 1972. A court ruled that Swiftmud would own the site but that the club could keep shooting.

Kelley said there are alternative kinds of bullets the shooters can use, but club members prefer to keep using the lead pellets.

"(The alternatives) are not preferred for hitting a clay target," he said. "The club wants to continue shooting like they have for the last 50 years. They don't have an intention of harming the environment."

There are 202 houses within a quarter-mile of Sawgrass Lake, said Lisa Lester, a representative of the Florida Consumer Action Network. Lead poisoning affects various systems of the body and can lead to brain damage. Lead builds up in the body and causes impairments that develop over a long period of time.

Alice Davis, an educator in the Pinellas County Health Department, said she will distribute fliers about lead poisoning to residents in the Sawgrass Lake area. The department offers free, walk-in lead screening for children ages 6 months to 6 years from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Mondays on the second floor Lead Clinic, 500 Seventh Ave. S.