Clarkstown has closed the indoor weapons firing range at police headquarters in New City because of lead contamination in the building and has begun a lead clean up that is expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack said air tests show the public spaces and work areas in the building at 20 Maple Ave. are safe. However, Gromack said the town is offering lead screening tests to all of the nearly 200 police and court employees working in the building.
Gromack said a malfunction in the building's ventillation system is believed responsible for lead that was found in Police Chief Peter Noonan's office - which is directly above the firing range - and inside ceilings in the building. Gromack said lead was coming into Noonan's office through a vent.
"We are doing everything we can to ensure that the people who work in that building have safe working conditions," Gromack said.
This is the second time Clarkstown has closed an indoor firing range. When the police department was located at Town Hall at 10 Maple Ave., the range in that building was closed for environmental concerns. The police department moved to the new police and courts facility about 17 years ago, getting a new indoor firing range in the process.
Gromack said the firing range is closed indefinitely. He and Councilman Frank Borelli, who is the Town Board liason to the police department, said it is likely Clarkstown will not attempt to reopen the range because of the environmental hazards created from firing thousands of rounds of ammunition inside the building.
"It is impossible to make it 100 percent safe," Borelli said. "By keeping it closed, we know we have eliminated the problem."
Gromack said Clarkstown will seek out alternative practice facilities where town's 163 police officers can conduct weapons training. The town range is popular with town police officers because of its easy access.
The lead contamination problem was discovered about 10 days ago, Gromack said, after Noonan became concerned about black dust in his office. As a result, Clarkstown hired Environmental Assessments and Solutions (EAS) of Scarsdale to test conditions at the police and courts building and the lead contamination was discovered.
EAS recommended immediately closing the firing range to prevent further contamination. Gromack said the town then hired a second contractor, Away Environmental Inc. of Bardonia, to start a clean up of Noonan's office, the neighboring office of Captain Michael Sullivan and work spaces throughout the building.
The Town Board has approved a larger clean up that includes replacing all the ceiling tiles throughout the building and wiping down the spaces and duct work within the ceilings. Gromack said EAS and Away Environmental are required to check each other's work and testing results.
"We are going far above what the experts said we have to do," Gromack said.
Borelli said the town has decided to reduce lead exposure to the lowest levels possible in the police and courts building.
"We want to use the same standards that are used for schools and areas where children play," said Borelli.
The cost of the environmental testing and the clean up is uncertain and may take about a month to accurately estimate, Gromack said. He explained the town will pay for the work through contingency funds and that the clean up is likely to cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Clarkstown today is making arrangements for a local health testing laboratory to be available to town police and court employees, with testing expected to be open by Monday. Gromack said the testing will be optional and that the town is working with its police and civil service unions to get word out to workers that they can be tested if they are concerned about their health.
"They need to have peace of mind that everyone is OK," Gromack said.
Gromack said Clarkstown has advised the Rockland County Health Department about the lead contamination and the ongoing testing and clean up efforts.
Sullivan said the testing and clean up operations at the police department have brought some disruptions, but have not affected the basic operations of the department.