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State Raises Environmental Concerns on Machine Gun Range Proposal; Public Meeting Scheduled

Massachusetts National Guard
The red outline on this map of Camp Edwards shows where the Army National Guard is proposing an eight-lane machine gun range. The surface danger zone, where projectiles could land, is highlighted in pink.

The Army National Guard’s proposal to build a machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod relies in part on a promise: only copper ammunition would be used. 

But the head of the state Environmental Management Commission (EMC) has cast doubt on that claim, releasing a letter that says some of the weapons systems listed for use at the range would require lead ammunition, which poses environmental, health, and safety concerns.

After the letter was filed, the Joint Community Advisory Council, Science Advisory Council, and EMC, which operates within the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs to oversee protection of the drinking water supply and wildlife habitat around the base, announced an Oct. 8 meeting to allow public comment on the proposal. Critics and environmentalists had been calling for a public hearing for more than a month. 


The letter, written by EMC environmental officer Leonard Pinaud, highlighted “significant inconsistencies” within various environmental submissions made by the Guard.


For example, the letter states, the Guard calls for the proposed range to allow for use of the 12 gauge shotgun and M1911 semi-auto pistol, “for which solid copper ammunition is currently not available in the Army inventory.” The letter says both rely on lead ammunition, which can contaminate soil and groundwater. Exposure to lead can cause heart, kidney, and reproductive issues for adults, and pose even more serious health problems in children. 


To protect groundwater underneath the base, a 2002 state law established the 15,000-acre Upper Cape Water Supply Reserve to make sure activities at the military base would not negatively impact the water flowing beneath it.


County Commission candidate and Yarmouth Selectman Mark Forest, who was instrumental in establishing the protected Water Supply Reserve on the base, said he was deeply concerned that lead ammunition could contaminate drinking water for all upper Cape towns. 


“I mean, we’re talking tens of thousands of homes and businesses,” he said. “We’re talking about a huge resource that most of Cape Cod depends on as its principal source of water supply.”


In the letter, Pinaud also expressed concern about the possible inclusion of the Mk 19 grenade launcher at the proposed range. 


The high explosive component of this weapon’s ammunition consists of 99% RDX, a known groundwater contaminant. In fact, it’s one of the chemicals that state and federal agencies have already spent a combined $1.2 billion cleaning up over the past 20 years. 


The Mk 19 can also launch a grenade a maximum distance of 2,212 meters, Pinaud wrote, “which is well beyond the current range design of 800 to 1,500 meters.”


Forest called these claims “disturbing.”


“The only military activity that can take place on this property is that activity which is consistent with those conservation goals,” Forest said. “It’s hard to believe that what’s being proposed is consistent with any type of conservation.” 


The Army National Guard did not respond to requests for comment, but maintains on its website that the range would use copper-ammunition only. “All ammunition used on this range would be copper ammunition, no lead ammunition will be fired,” according to a summary fact sheet.  


In previous comments, a Guard spokesman also said the range would comply with all environmental regulations.


Before the range project can move forward with construction, it must be approved by the Environmental Management Commission. 


The meeting  Oct. 8, will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The public may participate on a laptop, tablet or smartphone by going to, clicking “Join A Meeting” and entering the meeting ID: 879 8795 8775, Passcode: 871149; or by calling 312-626-6799 or 929-436-2866 and entering the meeting ID: 87987958775#. 


Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.