New Study Links Health Risks with Lead Exposure at Shooting Ranges

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that blood lead levels (BLLs) should never exceed five micrograms per deciliter, but the articles reviewed found that BLLs in some shooters can rise to anywhere from 10 µg/dL to over 40 µg/dL. (Photo: Wikipedia)

There’s nothing better than the smell of lead at a shooting range on a sunny Saturday morning. But according to a new study published in the April issue of Environmental Health, that smell might be more dangerous than you think.

The study reviews thirty-six articles that investigate the potential health risks of lead exposure to both professional and recreational shooters at shooting ranges. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that blood lead levels (BLLs) should never exceed five micrograms per deciliter, the articles reviewed found that BLLs in some shooters can rise to anywhere from 10 µg/dL to over 40 µg/dL.

According to the study, there is “sufficient evidence” that BLLs exceeding 10 µg/dL can result in essential tremor, hypertension, cardiovascular-related mortality and electrocardiography abnormalities, and decreased kidney glomerular filtration rates.

The risk is especially high for women and children. The body stores lead in the bones, and when a woman becomes pregnant, that lead can find its way to the fetus and cause developmental problems. For children, lead can inhibit the proper growth of organs and cause long-term detrimental health effects.

Exposure comes primarily through lead primers and bullets. When the primer is ignited and the bullet travels down the barrel, microscopic lead particles are released into the air. These particles can be inhaled or inadvertently consumed when they land on hands and clothing.

Blood lead levels rise the more time a shooter spends at a range. Occasional shooters who visit a range less than 12 times per year need not be too worried, according to the study. But regular shooters—both recreational, professional, and law enforcement—tend to exhibit much higher levels of lead exposure. Shooting instructors, range workers, and law enforcement trainees, for example, exhibited BLLs between 20 µg/dL and 40 µg/dL. Some studies found even higher levels among people whose occupation includes many hours of range time.

Since lead bullets and primers constitute the two primary causes of lead exposure at shooting ranges, the study recommends the development of lead-free primers and the use of lead-free bullets. The Department of Defense and NATO are already investigating the performance of lead-free primers to protect military personnel and lead-free ammunition is already on the market.

SEE ALSO: Interior Secretary Reverses Obama’s Lead Ammo Ban

Beyond minimizing the amount of lead at shooting ranges, the study recommends changing clothing after shooting, avoiding smoking and eating at firing ranges, and ensuring proper ventilation at indoor and outdoor ranges.

If this kind of study makes you nervous, I don’t blame you. Anti-gun politicians love to cry wolf about the supposed dangers of shooting sports and then use those “dangers” to increase regulation. Lead is poisonous, but it isn’t clear how much lead must be consumed before harmful effects manifest themselves. Mandating lead-free primers or lead-free bullets would be a clear case of government overreach, and this study shouldn’t be used as an excuse to impinge upon Second Amendment rights.

Still, it’s helpful for shooters—especially occupational shooters, women, and children—to know the potential risks of spending too much time in poorly ventilated ranges. While studies like this shouldn’t be taken as gospel truth, they should factor into the decisions shooters make as they pursue their sport, their work, or their hobby.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Paul Hillar May 23, 2017, 3:12 pm

    As a Navy brat, I played with a lot of things growing up, that most kids these days never see, as my father was a Corpsman for 20 years, and a Head Industrial Hygienist for 21 at NAS Alameda, and still going strong! He handled every form of hazardous waste they had on hand. As a child I used to play with mercury, as a lot of folks did, because in the early days, they didn’t know how it affected people. I wouldn’t go out and do it now, but I haven’t been ill other than the flu once every few years or so, and I get sick less now than I used to, and I don’t get flu shots. I have never even shown levels of lead or mercury in my blood tests. I am 55! As one gentleman stated above, some are more susceptible than others, and that’s just the way it is. The article starts out, “Nothing better than the smell of LEAD at the range”, LEAD? When I’m at the range I smell burnt powder, I also note the article stated “CAN” show, and also states “does” show, but in what, rats? Nothing factual that can be investigated for “scare tactics”! We had lead paint in the house, and no we didn’t chew on window sills. What idiot lets their kid do that? Mercury has been used as a preservative for decades in things like Merthiolate (my personal favorite), and for preserving drugs for disease control. Now they are trying to link it to Autism. They don’t know for sure if it does or doesn’t. You would think that with all the scientists we have, and the centuries of research, that we could put an end to all this crap infecting our kids, especially cancer. Seems like every other day there is a new cancer, and they all scratch their heads wondering how to kill it. But where’s the profit in that?

  • Cleophus May 19, 2017, 12:55 pm

    If they ban lead bullet ammo, then it will kill the shooting sports for me. The only reason I can shoot as much as I do is because I cast my own bullets from scrap lead. If I had to buy ready rolled ammo, or even jacketed bullets, well, I just couldn’t afford to shoot nearly as much as I do. Without bullet casting and reloading, the shooting sports would be way too far out of my price range.

  • DarthVaderMentor May 19, 2017, 11:44 am

    Some of you may remember the federal designated funds by the Democratic Obama supporting more anti-gun medical studies. This is one of the outcomes.

    Frankly, I’d rather be dumbed down a little by lead exposure yet a free man, than be lead free yet acutely aware that I’m a slave ruled by a globalist socialist elitist tyrannical government.

  • Facts Machine May 19, 2017, 10:48 am

    Lead toxicity is a reality; it’s not just some anti-gunner trick. Pro-2A people, particularly ammo & gun manufacturers, should work to get ahead of this issue. About one third of the people in this country have genetic issues with methylation (detoxing) and their bodies cannot remove lead from tissues & organs where it gets stored. Anyone, but especially these people can end up with life-long chronic health issues that doctors cannot figure out. This is also true for amalgam fillings which are 50% mercury (very toxic). Don’t let any dentist put them in the mouth of anyone you love. Happy shooting!

  • roger May 19, 2017, 4:52 am

    Why is a pro gun site pushing the anti-gun agenda of writer JORDAN MICHAELS a liberal plant?

  • Will Drider May 16, 2017, 10:35 am

    Post continued:
    Long term cronic exposure is worse then short term at higher levels, lead is accumulative.
    Results: My Basline was well below any need for concern. My follow up blood test all stayed below exposure limits. Anyone that hit the exposure limit would be medical taken off the Range Detail, no one was removed due to lead in 12 years of testing. We never got any feed back on the results of the Air/particle sucker devices. We can assume if there was a problem, there would have been additions in PPE, infastructure changes or personnel rotations. I’ve been retired (X2) since 06, have the normal old age issues but nothing lead related (brain, liver, kidney, bone).

    I do recommend utilizing proper precautions which didn’t exist during my first 50 years. Everybody’s body is different, you may not fair as well as I. There are additional concerns at indoor ranges and you should be very proactive when using them. But the sky is not falling and don’t let the doc’s and paper pushing gun grabbers use lead exposure as a tool to push a anti gun agenda.

    • David Miller May 19, 2017, 2:08 pm

      I have been a hunter all my life! I was in the Navy and we used exclusively LEAD paint, we also used white lead as a gasket material on our boilers and other equipment. After getting out of the Navy I spent the rest of my working life as a Master Plumber/pipefitter and I used lead all the time to solder copper water lines. When I first started we poured lead in cast iron joints to seal the using a lead pot with molten lead smoking away while we packed oakum in and around the joints. I cast my own bullets and made sinkers for fishing. You would think if a man was to suffer effects it would be me…but I am 70 years old and have neither suffered nor shown effects mentioned from lead exposer. I agree with this poster, take some precautions but don’t let this ruin your life with worry. Having said that, lead exposure is real, but we are also individuals and not all of us will react the same to exposure. Being responsible is up to each of us, to be aware and not just with lead, but many other things we find ourselves working with and exposed to each and everyday of our lives. Take care of yourselves and your family by all means, you only get one shot at life. Don’t pardon my pun!

  • Will Drider May 16, 2017, 2:12 am

    Yes, we know. Then they will try to ban its use, in the meantime they will push for a mandatory hazard labeling, increase air filtration and circulation at indoor and outdoor ranges, and push a VICE Tax. We have been through this before. Let me shed some first hand use experience into this. First, yes lead ingestion from any source is bad. Anything that brings these lead particles towards your face is contributes to ingestion/inhalation. Even blowing your nose, scratch a itch on your face or blow your nose. Toss some baby butt wipes in your range bag. Lead particles also get stirred up when you clean you guns, range gear and cloths.

    Until I was in my 30s we had lead in paint and a lot of other common items. Always been a shooter, some years in the Service would be called extreme high volume. Lol.
    I also did PMI, Range Officer And Range Safety Officer for extended periods while Stateside. Started second career in LE. Almost zero field shooting but quickly found my way back to additional duties as TERT, Firearms Instrustor and Range Master. So I’m slinging a lot of lead, and in the proximity of it two days a week for eight months of the year. Add TERT DRILLS and off the clock shooting sports and I would guess I’m long term exposesd a bit more then the average gun bunny.

    My Agency started testing Range Rats around 1996 doing baseline Blood tests, then a 3 month, 6 month and finally just an annual blood test in line with Instructor recertification. Once a year we also wore small battery powered vacuum devices (worn on collar) that sucked air/particles through a filter and the filter was then sealed and sent to a Lab to analysis what we were sucking in. This was done at a outdoor ranges and 99% of all my shooting has been outdoors.
    Lead can be excreted from soft tissue in 40 days, lead in bones/teeth can be last 10 years or more. Long term cronic exposure is worse then short term at higher levels, lead is 

    • Larry Brickey May 19, 2017, 8:57 pm

      Our local indoor range was closed by the state until it got cleaned up. Others were, too. Lead is dangerous if inhaled. You could wear a surgical mask, though you might get ribbed by the other shooters.

  • Steve Day May 16, 2017, 1:53 am

    Sure…. Which anti-gun group sponsored that study?

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