I was always aware of the dangers of lead poisoning, but had not investigated how serious it can be related to shooting, and how really simple it is to prevent contamination. A recent article inspired me to do much more investigation of the potential problem, and I must say the new information has reinforced the need for the nominal precautions I’ve been taking – and spurred me to much greater efforts. I asked Nathan Barton, a specialist in hazardous waste disposal, to give his take on this topic as well.
Is There a ‘Hidden Risk’ at Gun Ranges?
While the most obvious threat at a gun range would be a person who wasn’t safely using a firearm, according to some there could be a less obvious concern at many facilities: lead exposure.
Reading the article, you quickly understand that the most serious risk of unhealthful or even dangerous lead exposure is mostly to employees and very, very frequent users of indoor ranges. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should not be taking some serious precautions.
Nathan: Good quick short summary of problems and good practices to prevent/avoid/mitigate. Notice that this is 14+ years old but has essentially the SAME information as contained in the recent rash of news stories and press releases and alarmist messages. None of this is new.
So, to summarize, there is plenty of evidence – none of it new – that indoor shooting presents increased risk of exposure to lead, and that people can definitely reduce their risk by taking some solid prevention measures seriously.
1. If at all possible, reduce or eliminate time spent shooting at indoor ranges. Many people have few options, but the effort made to find other alternatives seems important. If you must use an indoor range, print off the pdf file and give it to the range manager or club president. Ask about dry sweeping, the level of ventilation and air filtering. Give the printout to any employees and instructors who use the range. Let them know they may lose a customer or club member if they do not provide a lead safe environment.
2. No matter where you shoot, it is probably well worth the expense to use only jacketed ammunition. I’ve used plain lead ammunition from time to time, but have never been happy with the lead buildup in the gun barrel. I will be looking to get rid of this old ammunition soon.
3. Whether you are indoors or out, use a wet cloth or baby wipe to clean your face and hands before you leave the range. If possible, wear an outer shirt or jacket that can be removed and bagged before you get into the car. All this helps to avoid spreading lead dust on your car seats and steering wheel.
4. When you get home, strip down and put your clothing into the washer. Don’t mix your outer shooting clothes with family laundry. Get into the shower and wash your face, hands and hair with tepid water. Hot water and soap together will open pores and tend to drive lead into your skin and hair. Once you rinse with the tepid water, soap up and shower as usual.
5. Wear gloves to clean your guns. I have been seriously remiss in this department for many years, but I will not clean guns ungloved again.
Some other references provided by Nathan below. Not all are completely accurate, as far as we can determine, and some are openly hostile to guns and shooting, but you should be able to glean some valuable information if you keep an open mind and a firm grasp on reality.
Nathan’s comments in italics.
April 1990: ASLET Journal (Republished by University of Texas EHS Institute as part of their MSDS section: http://www.utexas.edu/safety/ehs/msds/lead.html
Written by a shooting trainer, good neutral article with specifics. References 1989 study
March 2002/January 2013: Australian lead education website fact sheet on lead ammo lodged in the body: not directly related to shooting ranges
Interesting medical and historical information, including challenging errors reported elsewhere.
2003 Lead Poisoning at Firearms Forum (Stu Wayne):
Good short summary of entire issue for shooters.
Undated, possibly 2006 with update as recently as this year: Fact sheet “Aiming for Lower Lead Exposure”
Good article with practical and detailed information (including specifics on testing for lead in the body) from a pro-gun advocate and shooter on a pro-gun website. “A Manageable Hazard.”
Undated, probably 2009 with update in 2012, Health Risks, from Biological Diversity organization (pdf)
Alarmist: from environist and anti-hunting viewpoint. Has lots of references/links but most are to their own website. DOES discuss issues for reloading, though probably exaggerates risk. (An example of their own, discussing lead contamination in donated game meat. (pdf)
2005: North Dakota Department of Health Lead in Venison website with links.
Reasonably good generally, with some good links
December 2008: Organic Consumer: Massive Lead Contamination
Biased from organic food/environist/anti-hunting viewpoint, and written by the infamous Mike Adams, promoter of many health alternatives. Has suggestions for treatments (take with a grain of salt!)
January 2013: Mother Jones Magazine
Slanted to environist and hoplophobic audiences, “bad living” alarmist and contains some good information but also much inaccurate information.
November 2011, University of Vermont: Study of Shooting Ranges impact.
Legislative Research Service paper, looks mostly at effects OUTside of the range.
Undated, probably 2010: Oregon State factsheet (download)
Deals with lead hazards and prevention in general. use for teaching health and safety classes and training where lead and other heavy metals are emphasized.
Lead Safety Data Sheet (new format for MSDS)
Massive exposure (pdf)
Various forms (pdf)