Getting The Lead Out

By MamaLiberty

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.

April 2000: Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fact sheet on lead hazards in indoor shooting ranges

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:

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)

OSHA Related:

General information

Decon/cleanup of dust

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4 Responses to Getting The Lead Out

  1. Pingback: Gunsmoke Gets In Your Eyes | The Price of Liberty

  2. Matt says:

    This is a good reminder, thank you. When my youngest daughter turned 21 she bought her first handgun. She was 7 months along with her first child at that time. But, she wasn’t going to put off learnig to use that handgun, so off to the range we went. Had her wear a mask, and shoot with latex gloves, washed with baby wipes when done etc. I cleaned the pistol though since that is a chemical intensive process. I will wear gloves for that from no on too.


    • MamaLiberty says:

      Good for her, and you. I could kick myself around the block for not looking into this better a long time ago. Will make a difference how I do things from now on. I used some of my semi-wadcutter ammo at the outdoor range this morning and was glad for the brisk wind. Will clean that gun a lot more carefully than I have been too… I’ve always been careful to use baby wipes on my hands and face right after shooting, and washed up with tepid water when I got home, but the process is going to get a little more careful now, and I won’t be using the indoor range until that place is cleaned up.

      A project anyone can do, if they use an indoor range: Print off that first pdf two pager and make sure the range manager or club president has a copy. They should take measures to upgrade immediately. Darn few of them probably actually want to be sued. I left a copy at my club and will take more to the next meeting.


  3. Pingback: Getting the lead out | Pro 2nd Amendment Boycott – P2AB

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