Lead violations found in most TOSHA inspections of gun ranges - WSMV Channel 4

Lead violations found in most TOSHA inspections of gun ranges

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CROSSVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors found lead violations in the majority of gun range inspections since 2012, a Channel 4 I-Team review of state records uncovered.

The I-Team reviewed the records after two former employees of a Crossville gun range, now under investigation by TOSHA, came forward with blood tests that reveal high levels of lead in their blood.

While working at the Range at Dave's in Crossville, Tony May received a dire prediction from his doctor.

"My doctor doesn't pull any punches. He looks and me and says, 'You're going to die,'" May said.

Also while working at the shooting range, Candice Stone's nurse had a warning for her as well.

"The nurse said that I needed to quit," Stone said.

The former employees provided blood tests that show both had high levels of lead in their blood while they worked at the gun range.

"It's dangerous. If I want to have kids in my future, I can't have lead in my system," Stone said.

"I have constant headaches, have some muscle pains," May said.

May said when he worked at the Range at Dave’s, he did everything to protect himself while cleaning up the lead.

"Showering, washing my hands. I made it mandatory on the range for everyone to wear masks. And it (his lead levels) went even higher,” May said.

May said the problem wasn’t from the shells he was sweeping up in the range, but rather over his head in the filtration system.

"I've had several shooters come to me and ask me, ‘Have you replaced the filters lately? Because I can smell it and I'm coughing,’” May said.

"Did you come out and say, ‘You've got to fix this filtration system?’" asked chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.

“Many times,” May said.

Terry Hassler, the owner of The Range at Dave’s, disputed May’s claims and agreed to answer questions from the I-Team.

"You have not one, but two employees, former employees, with dangerous high levels of lead in their system. How can two people be wrong?" Finley asked.

"I have the blood work that's required to dispute that. I have the numbers," Hassler said.

Hassler claims May’s lead levels were high when he first started the job, and that he never heard of Stone having a problem until after she was gone from the job.

Hassler said his filtration filters are changed every 10 days, and that the problem wasn’t with his range, but with his former workers inability to protect themselves despite written warnings.

Hassler said Stone was warned not to eat or drink in the building, and he even had photos taken of May not wearing his protective suit to clean up the bullets.

"I again threatened that he wouldn't be working here if he didn't get this under control,” Hassler said.

Both May and Stone deny Hassler’s claim, saying they did not receive those reprimands.

The I-Team found it’s that type of dispute, between a gun range owner and former employees, that has resulted in TOSHA investigations across the state.

TOSHA only inspects ranges when a complaint has been filed.

When the I-Team reviewed the completed investigations, we found one common denominator.

"The majority of them had lead violations,” said Tabitha Thompson, industrial hygienist for TOSHA.

Of the 10 TOSHA investigations into gun ranges since 2012, eight resulted in citations and fines for some kind of lead violation, either too high of lead levels or a lack of training about lead.

Click here to read all of the TOSHA investigations into Tennessee gun ranges since 2012, including those still pending resolution and those that did and did not receive citations.

"We do see a lot of serious hazards out there. But I think, sometimes, the owners don't understand how important it is to protect their employees from lead,” Thompson said.

Thompson said it’s unlikely that customers of gun ranges with lead violations could suffer from health problems, because customers would have to be in the ranges for several hours a day for weeks.

More likely, Thompson said it is employees who are the target for getting sick.

"If you're exposed to it on a daily basis, it's going to keep accumulating in your blood stream, in your tissues, in your bones,” Thompson said.

TOSHA is currently investigating May’s complaints about The Range at Dave’s.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation already inspected and found no problems.

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