The state Department of Environmental Quality will launch an investigation into toxic waste found at a gun range near northeast Mesa after testing that was delayed for four years revealed metals and other pollutants in a septic tank.
DEQ director Steve Owens said Thursday he also wants to know why no one notified his agency after officials at the Rio Salado Sportsmans Club and state Game and Fish Department first learned of the problem.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions we need to address," Owens said.
The septic tank contains small amounts of chromium, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, dichlorobenzene and acetone, according to a report by the Phoenix-based SA &B Environmental and Chemical Consultants, which conducted the test last month.
The report states the concentrations of the pollutants are not high enough to be considered hazardous waste under federal rules.
"We still have some concerns," Owens said. "Even though this might not meet the legal definition of hazardous waste, they are still hazardous substances and present in high enough levels to cause us some concern."
The next step will be to determine if nearby groundwater could have been tainted with the waste, some of which may have "migrated" through soil from the underground tank, Owens said. More testing could be performed, he said.
Owens said the long delay in reporting the initial contamination could have exacerbated any problems.
"The longer something’s in the ground, the more potential it does have to migrate and affect the groundwater, and to increase the risk of exposure," he said.
John Martin, the club’s president, said in April he knew four years ago that his son — who ran a gunsmithing service at the range — had dumped gun bluing waste into the septic tank over an unknown period of time. Martin said he believed his son had chemically neutralized the waste.
No one alerted DEQ at that time.
The May report concluded the presence of acetone and dichlorobenzene "indicate that some spent gun bluing solution had been discharged to the septic tank."
During a time of political upheaval last year at the gun club, which runs the gun range at 3960 N. Usery Pass Road, former rangemaster Mort Jackson raised the issue of the potential contamination in the septic tank. He wrote a letter to the Game and Fish Department, which oversees the gun range operation.
The department’s director for the past 15 years, Duane Shroufe, wrote back in a Jan. 13, 2004 letter that the allegations had been investigated and the findings forwarded to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
The investigation consisted of compiling various memos and letters about the allegation. Game and Fish officials said they learned only last month that a previous examination of the issue — conducted by a company hired by Martin’s son, Derrick Martin — included no site testing. Officials then ordered the test.
Shroufe did not return calls Thursday. Derrick Martin, a National Guardsman, is in Iraq and could not be reached. John Martin declined to comment on the latest test findings.
Officials will decide next week whether more testing should be conducted, Owens said. If the groundwater in that area is far enough below the surface, the likelihood is much lower that it could be contaminated, he said. John Martin has said previously the water table begins 1,800 feet below the gun range.
"We do know the substances should not be present in the septic system," Owens said. "It certainly is our desire at the Department of Environmental Quality to be notified of something like this."