Higgins asks CBP com­mis­sioner to look at lead is­sue

The Buffalo News - - CONTINUED FROM THE COVER - By Jerry Zrem­ski

WASH­ING­TON – Rep. Brian Higgins is ask­ing the com­mis­sioner of U.S. Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion to de­ter­mine if lo­cal Cus­toms of­fi­cers suf­fered from ex­ces­sive exposure to lead at their Ni­a­gara Gun Range train­ing fa­cil­ity – which, Higgins said, the agency ought to aban­don once and for all.

“I strongly urge the agency to look into this mat­ter, de­ter­mine the scale and de­gree to which em­ploy­ees may have been ex­posed to this con­tam­i­na­tion, and seek ex­pe­dited pro­cesses to deal with and ame­lio­rate the po­ten­tially haz­ardous re­sults of the exposure,” Higgins, a Buf­falo Demo­crat, said in a let­ter Fri­day to Kevin K. McAleenan, com­mis­sioner of the Cus­toms agency.

An agency spokesman, Aaron E. Bowker, said of­fi­cers who trained at the Wheat­field gun range were tested af­ter the agency found lead con­tam­i­na­tion through­out the fa­cil­ity last De­cem­ber. None of the of­fi­cers tested re­ported blood lead lev­els in ex­cess of the Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion limit, but two had rel­a­tively high lead lev­els and were as­signed to other du­ties, Bowker said.

Nev­er­the­less, Higgins said he wanted the agency to take a more com­pre­hen­sive look at the pos­si­ble health ef­fects of lead con­tam­i­na­tion at the fa­cil­ity, where those tests last De­cem­ber found high lead lev­els on ta­bles, the floor, the mi­crowave, the cof­fee pot and other lo­ca­tions.

The gun range is lo­cated in the dis­trict of Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Re­pub­li­can. But Higgins said he felt com­pelled to speak out be­cause many Cus­toms of­fi­cers live in his Buf­falo-based dis­trict.

“A num­ber of my con­stituents em­ployed at CBP in the Western New York re­gion may have been ex­posed to high lead lev­els,” Higgins noted in his let­ter.

The agency stopped train­ing its agents at the Ni­a­gara Gun Range af­ter find­ing the con­tam­i­na­tion there. And al­though the fa­cil­ity’s owner has spent $45,000 to mit­i­gate the lead con­tam­i­na­tion and to make sure it won’t hap­pen again, Higgins said the Cus­toms agency should not do its train­ing there ever again.

“I fur­ther strongly rec­om­mend the agency find a suit­able al­ter­na­tive lo­ca­tion for fu­ture train­ing and en­sure that such al­ter­na­tive lo­ca­tion meets stan­dard pro­to­cols for health and en­vi­ron­men­tal safety,” Higgins said.

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