BOSTON (AP) – The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday announced Tuesday it will permit restricted use of lead bullets at the Massachusetts National Guard firing range on Cape Cod, saying the 18-month test program will evaluate the effectiveness of an innovative system to capture the ammunition.
Under trial program, the National Guard is required to recycle spent lead ammunition, test soil and groundwater annually, and examine water found four to five feet below the soil surface three times a year, the federal agency said.
The findings must be reported to state and federal environmental authorities.
The measures are intended to ensure that soil and water supplies are not affected by the reintroduction of lead bullets to the range, 10 years after the ammunition was banned at Camp Edwards in Bourne.
It will be one of only a few military bases in the country to use a new system in which test range bullets are encased within two rubber membranes, and surrounded by a layer of granulated rubber, according to the EPA.
The so-called “STAPP Environmental Bullet Catcher” prevents the ammunition from contaminating soil and water.
The EPA banned lead at the base in 1997 and ordered the National Guard to investigate possible contamination. Of 13 wells drilled to test for lead contamination, only one turned up small traces of lead.
The Army’s research concluded that rainwater quickly drains through the sandy soil, reducing the amount of time lead bullets are exposed to water, which causes them to corrode, and ultimately leach into the groundwater.
The Guard’s report estimates it could take 1,000 years for the lead to reach the groundwater under current conditions.
The National Guard asked the EPA to lift the ban on the ammunition, and the agency last month reviewed studies that showed “the former use of lead bullets has not significantly contaminated groundwater at Camp Edwards or elsewhere on the Massachusetts Military Reservation,” according to the statement.
The lead is also prevented from contaminating the groundwater because the metal binds with soil particles before it reaches the groundwater, much like a sponge, a state environmental official said in May.
The shooting range is located above the Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve, which is the sole source aquifer that provides drinking water for the Upper Cape.