This map locates the shooting stations at the Point at Pintail on the Wye River. Map courtesy of SCS Engineers.

ShoreRivers Reaches Settlement with Shooting Range over Toxic Lead Allegations

The mid-Eastern Shore’s waterkeeper organization and an upscale shooting range have reached a settlement to address high levels of lead in the soil at a shooting range on the Wye riverfront.

ShoreRivers says the sporting clay course and shooting range at The Point at Pintail, in Queenstown, Md., has caused toxic levels of lead shot in surrounding soil, threatening the health of people and wildlife. According to a press release from the riverkeeper group, between 2013 and 2019 alone, 171 tons of lead were discharged around the site, which accumulated in soil, ditches, and ponds draining into the Wye.

While lead is banned in gasoline, paints, and waterfowl hunting nationwide, it is still in use in upland game hunting and trap- and skeet-shooting sports. Shooting ranges are especially likely to accumulate lead to toxic levels, ShoreRivers says. In 2017 the organized field a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act and Resource Recovery and Conservation Act alleging The Point at Pintail failed to protect human and environmental health from lead poisoning as required by law. ShoreRivers says it had first approached the business owners in 2015 about partnering to remediate lead pollution at the site and notified the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Queen Anne’s County Health Department, but there was no action for two years.

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The owners of The Point at Pintail, however, say the claims that “the Pintail Point property is ‘toxic’ or presents a danger of any kind to the environment or individuals are false and malicious.” They say MDE investigated ShoreRivers’ 2015 allegations and concluded that there were no violations of the law.

A collective statement from the owners to Bay Bulletin says the property’s owners have “from the time they began operating the range in 2012, implemented and continued following Best Management Practices pursuant to an Environment Stewardship Plan adopted under the U.S. EPA’s Guidance on Best Management Practices for Lead at Outdoor Shooting Ranges.”

Michael McLaughlin of SCS Engineers, the hazardous waste expert for ShoreRivers who evaluated samples taken in 2020 from The Point at Pintail, called the ecological risk from lead contamination in soil and sediment at the gun club “substantial.” He said, “The concentrations of lead found at several areas of the gun club present a threat to human health. Those potentially at risk include gun club visitors and staff who can ingest or inhale lead dust.”

The final settlement agreement requires The Point at Pintail to address existing lead deposits, clean up future lead debris, close or move certain shooting stations near wetlands or ditches, and do regular water and soil sampling to check for any further lead pollution.

For its part, Pintail Point’s owners say they were working to schedule the most recent lead reclamation project nearly a year before settlement discussions with ShoreRivers, and the reclamation work was finished in the summer of 2020, months before the settlement agreement. Pintail Point says it uses several Best Management Practices to “ensure the lead shot on the property is managed in a manner that does not have a negative effect on the environment.”

ShoreRivers hopes the case serves to raise awareness about the threat posed by lead shot.

Isabel Hardesty, executive director of ShoreRivers, says, “Many hunters and sport shooters are conservation-minded, and I urge these communities to look at this as an opportunity for improvement. Can we do more to protect against the damages of lead shot, or further curtail its use by switching to steel or other non-toxic alternatives, in order to protect our shared environment? ShoreRivers welcomes the opportunity to work with the sport shooting community in these endeavors.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano