Toxic armories cleanup must be priority in Pentagon budget, 10 senators say

Cleaning up lead dust in the National Guard’s toxic armories needs to be a priority in the Pentagon’s 2018 budget, a group of 10 senators, including Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, said Wednesday.

Otherwise, the senators said, the neurotoxin will continue to pose dangers to the soldiers and communities who use the buildings.

The senators said their call for dedicated cleanup funding was prompted by The Oregonian/OregonLive’s 18-month investigation, Toxic Armories, which found lead dust from indoor firing ranges has contaminated hundreds of armories from coast to coast and that military leaders ignored directives to clean it up.

Nearly 20 years after a military audit urged a cleanup nationwide, the lawmakers said it’s time to make the nation’s armories safe.

“Like other important national infrastructure, our armories are deteriorating and require significant maintenance,” the nine Democrats and one independent said in a letter to Senate defense spending leaders.

Though the senators did not put a price tag on their request. Oregon alone estimates that cleaning 12 of its contaminated armories will cost $21 million. Wisconsin National Guard leaders put their cleanup total at $4.8 million, the senators said.

Even though the National Guard pledged federal funding for a cleanup after The Oregonian/OregonLive’s investigation, the senators said it’s not clear where that money will come from. Without dedicated funding in the Pentagon’s budget, they said, states may be forced to choose the same cleanup options that have repeatedly left lead behind.

“Scarce local readiness funding will only help manage the problemanot solve it,” the senators wrote. “State Guards do not have the money to cover the costs of ideal lead abatement options like permanent remediation.”

That’s been a problem across the country. The Guard has converted hundreds of indoor firing ranges into offices, locker rooms, storage areas, gymnasiums, classrooms and other uses without thoroughly cleaning the rooms first.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the letter was also signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York; Gary Peters, D-Mich.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.