A top attorney for federal air marshals is demanding the government not have them train at gun ranges until those ranges are proved free of lead hazards.

Share story

The top attorney for the federal air marshals demanded Tuesday that the Transportation Security Administration halt all firearms training at ranges until they are proved safe from lead hazards.

Lawrence Berger, general counsel for Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), said in a letter to the agency that air marshals were being overexposed to lead at TSA gun ranges as well as at those under federal contracts.

The letter was in response to a Seattle Times April 13 investigation that disclosed TSA had put hundreds of its employees in danger by having them undergo firearms training at two lead-contaminated commercial ranges in Washington that repeatedly violated safety and health laws, sickening workers.

“FLEOA demands that the Transportation Security Administration immediately cease and desist contracting with or otherwise utilizing any gun range that has not been inspected by or received an up-to-date clearance from OSHA that the range is safe from toxic poisoning,” Berger said.

Tuesday’s warning letter to TSA Acting Administrator Melvin Carraway came after he ignored air marshals’ concerns raised by The Times story, said Frank Terreri, president of the Federal Air Marshal Agency, part of the FLEOA.

He termed Carraway’s lack of response “callous,” and said his organization would press its case with members of Congress.

Air marshals, who provide armed security on certain flights, must prove their proficiency with a service firearm four times a year. TSA selects the gun ranges where they train.

When lead-based ammunition is fired, lead vapor and dust spread into the air and onto surfaces. If a range doesn’t have proper ventilation and fails to adequately clean the range, air marshals can be overexposed to lead. Shooters might also track the metal home and contaminate others. Children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning.

TSA entered a contract to use Wade’s Eastside Guns of Bellevue for firearms training in 2004, with renewals for four more years. A former Wade’s instructor said that after a Federal Air Marshal Service employee tested the air and surfaces there for lead in 2008, the agency didn’t use the range again. Two Wade’s employees suffered lead poisoning that year.

TSA then entered a contract with a gun range that’s repeatedly violated health and safety regulations. Champion Arms of Kent was considered the worst indoor range by a Washington Labor and Industries (L&I) expert in 2009, the same year the air marshals started shooting there.

Records show the ventilation hadn’t worked properly from 2005 until May 2010, and L&I, the state occupational-safety agency, fined Champion for several violations that posed a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm to workers.

In 2011, an inspection revealed 10 more violations. L&I has said the violations have been corrected.

A day after The Times story published, FLEOA requested TSA to immediately notify officers who may have been overexposed at these gun ranges. It also stated in a letter that TSA should investigate all gun ranges to ensure they are following all safety and health regulations.

Terreri said TSA has done neither. “We’re not going to let it die,” he said.

TSA declined to be interviewed. In a statement late Tuesday, TSA said it would continue to use gun ranges it had contracts with, made no mention of notifying employees who may have been overexposed, and said it “takes seriously the safety and well-being of our workforce.”