Lead poisoning-shooting’s hidden risk

When we first starting shooting on a regular basis, we went to a local indoor range that was quite old and out-of date. We became concerned, however, when we would find a thin black film in our noses and ears as we were leaving the range and quickly Googled that the likely culprit was lead dust.

Lead poisoning. The “hidden” risk of shooting.

We hadn’t even considered that a risk with our new hobby. And we had particular concerns because we were shooting as a family, including our then-12-year-old daughter, and children are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of lead poisoning as exposure to lead can cause serious issues with brain development.

Pregnant women are also at considerable risk with exposure to lead and so should take additional precautions when handling guns and ammunition, including having someone else load magazines, wearing a face mask at the range, wearing gloves, and ideally having someone else handle gun cleaning, while expecting.

Lead is an issue for the shooting hobby through a number of avenues – the bullets themselves (particularly evident when you’re loading your magazines before a range date and your fingers are covered in black dust), the gasses that emit from the bullet leaving the gun barrel and the fragments created as the bullet hits the backstop. That can contact you directly or end up as air particulates, particularly if you are in an older, poorly ventilated indoor range.

Testing recommended, especially for children

Shortly after we started shooting we took our daughter to her pediatrician for a blood lead test. We considered it our baseline. She had slightly elevated levels but nothing that the doctor said she would be concerned about immediately. She did recommend however that we test her every 6 months just to be sure. We also made sure that either my husband or I loaded her magazines, especially when she was shooting .22LR, which usually has an exposed lead tip.

How to protect against lead poisoning

For all of us we switched to full-metal jacket ammunition for the range, as it’s completely clad in copper or brass (no exposed lead) and is often less expensive than the hollow-point ammunition we load for self-defense.  We also purchased several bottles of D-Lead soap, lead-off wipes, and anti-lead laundry detergent and instituted a strict lead protocol for any handling of guns or ammunition.

  1. After loading magazines hands are washed with D-Lead soap and cool water, rinsed then rewashed with regular soap.
  2. After shooting at the range hands and faces are washed in the range bathroom with D-Lead soap and cool water (our range has this in the bathroom, and we also keep a small bottle in the car just in case). If we are at an outdoor range without access to running water, we use the Lead-Off wipes we keep in the car at all times (along with our first aid kit) then make sure we wash our hands with our portable D-lead soap before eating or drinking anything at the first opportunity.
  3. Once home we drop all our range clothes and shoes in the basement hallway, and the clothes get washed immediately (and separately) with the anti-lead laundry detergent. Showers then follow for everyone.

There’s also no eating or drinking at the range, as ingesting lead through touching food with your fingers is one of the primary ways of getting exposure. We’ve also been lucky enough to find a newer range in our area that has state-of-the-art air handling capabilities and is really cognizant of reducing lead exposure. No more black noses and ears when we’re done with a shooting session, which is a relief.

While lead exposure and lead poisoning is serious, if you’re careful and take precautions, it shouldn’t affect your shooting enjoyment.

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