Can vapors from firing old ammo be toxic?


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csay
September 2, 2008, 09:09 PM
I had a health scare yesterday on the opening day of Dove Season. I didn't prepare enough in advance for opening day and forgot one of the most important things, shells! Well, I thought, I'll just use some old shells that belonged to my Grandfather who died 22 years ago. There were several varieties of shells in some really old boxes that I removed from their house when we cleaned it out. There is no telling how old these shells really are. I was just going to keep them and not use them, however, in the situation I was in I used them anyway.
In this bunch of shells were some old paper shells by a maker called Nimrod. I loaded these into the gun to see if they would actually work. I ended up firing up to 6 of these, but I can't remember exactly. I noticed that they smoked a lot, and had a really strong odor that I unintentionally inhaled. Within 30 minutes I became very disoriented and dilusional. When my wife saw me in the state I was in she decided to take me to the hospital. On the way, my pupils became pinpoint, my face began tingling, my speach slurred and mouth kind of drew up as though I was about to pucker up for a kiss. I had never felt like this before. The EMS people, as well as the doctor, asked me about any drug use. I DON'T DO DRUGS.
The next possibility was a mini-stroke. I'm 44 years old, and in reasonably good shape. My blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, cholestrol, brain scan, etc., was all normal.
Today I visited my family doctor who really didn't agree with a possible mini-stroke cause of my overall health being as it is. She believes it to be something I ingested somehow. This is how my pupils became pinpoints. Mercury poisoning? Lead poisoning? Something in the vapors from firing the old shells? She thinks that's a good possibility.
In ending, I would say I'm pretty normal today. I've done some research today and found that Mercury has been used in ammunition. Does anyone know of anything similar happening? Is there some toxicity in the vapors? Any info would help. I'm scheduled for an MRI soon, so that will clear up the whole stroke thing.

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kingpin008
September 2, 2008, 09:16 PM
The pinpoint pupils and tingling face sound like blood pressure issues to me, specifically a spike in blood pressure. I don't know about the composition of the old shotshells, but it could be an exposure to some type of Nitro that messed with you.

Stevie-Ray
September 2, 2008, 09:17 PM
Was Bell's Palsy mentioned? Though it seems remote, if you're OK today.

SDC
September 2, 2008, 09:19 PM
Technically, yes, but normally only over a very long period of exposure; some possibilities along these lines are mercury or lead (components of some older primers, but most primers today are non-mercuric, and they don't show up except for neurological damage a LONG time afterwards, and after a LOT of exposure). Another possibility might be exposure to nitrates or nitroglycerine, as some drugs are known to react to nitro compounds. One fellow of my acquaintance worked for years in the firearms business, but had a heart attack shortly after retiring, and the likely explanation was that the constant low doses of nitro he got through inhalation was enough to keep his heart problems in check.

csay
September 2, 2008, 10:07 PM
Actually, my wife was taking me in to the hospital and found a police officer who called an ambulance. They immediately checked vitals and were all ok. I passed a neuro test also. The pinpoint pupils are real common in drug overdose. The doctor who examined me mentioned the possibility of pesticide contact in the field I was hunting in. That theory was based largely on the pinpoint pupils. They are not back to normal yet.

Officers'Wife
September 2, 2008, 10:54 PM
Did they do a nitrate test on your blood sample? Usually in propellants the NG decomposes first and there isn't enough heat for the Nitrocellulose to detonate fully. If the NC was vaporized and you inhaled the stuff it would show the symptoms you describe. Just for safety's sake I would have blood work done for heavy metals though and mention that you may have been exposed to mercury.

Selena

myrockfight
September 3, 2008, 02:15 PM
Did they do a nitrate test on your blood sample? Usually in propellants the NG decomposes first and there isn't enough heat for the Nitrocellulose to detonate fully. If the NC was vaporized and you inhaled the stuff it would show the symptoms you describe. Just for safety's sake I would have blood work done for heavy metals though and mention that you may have been exposed to mercury.

I was thinking the exact same thing. I just didn't know if they used nitrocellulose in that particular powder.

Aguila Blanca
September 3, 2008, 02:18 PM
Aren't all smokeless powders nitrocellulose?

On the other hand, is there any possibility these shells were old enough to be black powder? I remember that my grandfather had some black powder shotgun shells when I was a kid (but that was 50+ years ago).

rcmodel
September 3, 2008, 02:24 PM
I find it very hard to believe anyone could get sick, or get mercury or lead poisoning, from breathing the fumes off six paper shotgun shells.

They have always had a strong oder, which most of us older shooters find very pleasant.
It was common practice to "smell" the empties while hunting!

The smoke comes from the paraffin burning off the paper hull.

I have never heard of anyone ever getting high, or sick from it in 60+ years of shooting/hunting!

I got to think you had some other health problem that just happened to come up while you were out shooting on opening day.

rcmodel

Eric F
September 3, 2008, 07:18 PM
the answer to this is mold. There are many molds that will give this effect as described. Similar to the magic mushrooms. It was likely growing in the paper hull and then put air born when shot right through the lungs and mucus membrains in the sinus cavity. It is a rare occurance but it does happen now and then.

NC-Mike
September 3, 2008, 10:06 PM
I was trying to find an article I somewhat recently saw in American Rifleman. A guy wrote in and said he had some smokeless powder in a glass jar for a long time, when he opened it, a cloud of purple gas came out.

American Rifleman responded by saying smokeless powder can decompose and give off some kind of corrosive gas that is very harmful if you should breath it. Being that the rounds were so old, maybe the powder started to decompose and the OP got a whiff of something bad.

Anyone remember seeing that letter?

Navy joe
September 3, 2008, 10:17 PM
Mercury or lead would not be acute, I would go for pesticides too since the symptoms sound a lot like chemical weapons symptoms except you link it closely to firing the shells. Maybe the inhaled nitrate compounds got you.

EricTheBarbarian
September 3, 2008, 10:25 PM
I will disagree with that being any symptoms to being exposed to nitrates or nitrocellulose. You would have terrible headaches if it was something related to that. Unless you have been synthesizing large amounts of explosives, I would rule that out. It constricts the blood vessels, those same properties make nitrates effective in heart medicine.

A guy wrote in and said he had some smokeless powder in a glass jar for a long time, when he opened it, a cloud of purple gas came out.
Not being a scientist, or there, or read the article, that sounds a lot like potassium permanganate which looks somewhat like smokeless powder, is purple and commonly used in homemade fireworks, rather than smokeless powder.

As to the problem, I would look more into something not related at all to the ammunition. Lead or mercury wouldn't have acute side effects like that as another poster stated.

GigaBuist
September 3, 2008, 11:27 PM
There are many molds that will give this effect as described. Similar to the magic mushrooms.

Psilocybin ("magic") mushrooms will dilate your pupils, not constrict them.

Within 30 minutes I became very disoriented and dilusional.
Were you delusional or hallucinating? There's a difference. If you're delusional you're fabricating entire objects in your mind. Ie: Talking to people that aren't there. A hallucination is just a modification of what's actually there. Ie: Talking to somebody with a bubbling forehead.

Wes Janson
September 3, 2008, 11:32 PM
Not being a scientist, or there, or read the article, that sounds a lot like potassium permanganate which looks somewhat like smokeless powder, is purple and commonly used in homemade fireworks, rather than smokeless powder.


And going out on a limb here, I doubt that powder which had decomposed would be able to ignite and burn properly, if at all.

351 WINCHESTER
September 3, 2008, 11:40 PM
Sounds like a "case of the vapors" to me. I used to work with a black dude some time ago and he told me that's what the black ladies say when they are not feeling well.

Seriousely, I hope you will be alright. I was shooting at an indoor range one time and I guess their venetalation system wasn't working properly as I too became sick and had to leave. Never went back.

Scratchy
September 3, 2008, 11:41 PM
Do wads give off fumes?

GigaBuist
September 4, 2008, 12:08 AM
Do wads give off fumes?
Well, we're talking about paper shells here. The wadding used in them is plain 'ole felt if I recall correctly. Hardly a toxic substance.

fatelk
September 4, 2008, 12:33 AM
I had some H4895 go bad once. When I would open the can, a brown cloud of heavy, BAD smelling gas would float out. I could take it outside to air out, put the lid back on, and in a day or two it would be even worse. For the next couple years I would occasionally find a small batch of shells that had obviously been loaded with it, as they would corrode from the inside out, smell terrible if fired, and "pop" with smelly gas when pulled apart (not even good for components).

b.thomas
September 4, 2008, 01:57 AM
I've shot ammo that was as much as sixty years old several times without any ill effect.:confused:

Sackett
September 4, 2008, 03:48 AM
I can't speak to the contents of old shells, but your story reminded me of a similar experience I had last year.

I was sitting on the couch watching TV of all things, and my hand started to tingle. Then part of my face. Then- my vision started acting strange with bright flashes and a strange blind spot. This all came on over 5-10min, and the blind spot, followed by mild dizziness was the last straw. I told my wife we needed to go to the ER now because these were not 'normal' symptoms. I truly thought I was having a minor stroke, even though I hadn't yet turned 30!

2hrs later (we are in the socialist republic of CA after all) it was diagnosed as a Migraine Headache! Never happened before, and I only had one after that. The headache itself was very mild compared to the symptoms, and it turns out that any number of things are "triggers" (let's keep this gun related) for Migraines. Mine may have been a particular red wine I was drinking at the time, coupled with a caustic work environment (i.e.-stress).

This doesn't necessarily explain your pupils, but the other symptoms are very similar. Here are some other triggers for migraines:

"stress, sleep disturbances, fasting, hormones, bright or flickering lights, odors, cigarette smoke, alcohol, aged cheeses, chocolate, monosodium glutamate, nitrites, aspartame, and caffeine."

Maybe they should include old gunsmoke?

Anyway, I'm glad you're better today and hope it's a one-time thing.

Cosmoline
September 4, 2008, 03:56 AM
All vapors from smokeless powder should be considered toxic. They contain heavy metals and a number of nasty compounds. That's why indoor ranges need to be well ventilated. If you are exposed long enough you can indeed develop high lead levels.

I suppose it's also possible to have an allergic reaction to some compound in a particular form of powder. But AFAIK there is nothing extra toxic about old shells.

Eric F
September 4, 2008, 07:05 AM
Psilocybin ("magic") mushrooms will dilate your pupils, not constrict them.
I know that, I was just giving an example of another fungus/mold that can affect you. There are many molds that work in diffrent ways.

LKB3rd
September 4, 2008, 07:09 AM
Did you tell the doctor about firing the old ammo? It seems to me to be the simplest explanation, when you inhaled the smoke, then immediately got sick, that it had something to do with that.

csay
September 4, 2008, 07:40 AM
With all things being considered, the doctor thought the shells were the most likely cause. I don't know if it was the powder in the shell, mold or perhaps something had absorbed into the shells over the years. I just know that it was almost immediately after that when I started feeling ill. I never had any pain. I don't know if I was delusional, cause I really can't explain my mental state. I just felt like I was losing my mind or something. I had never felt this way before. My wife was afraid to even drive me cause of the way that I was looking at her. After thinking back, I started coming out of this once they started giving me 100% oxygen. I have since had no signs of this ever happening. My wife spoke to my hunting buddy's wife to let her know what had happened. She said that he had come home as soon as he dropped me off, felt really sleepy, and went to sleep for several hours. Totally unlike him to do that. He was sitting next to me when I fired the shells.
I really appreciate all of the help. I do have an MRI scheduled for Saturday. I feel confident that I don't need it, but my family wants to be sure there is no blockage. The mold theory makes a lot of sense to me. Thanks Eric.

myrockfight
September 4, 2008, 10:39 AM
Csay,

Glad to hear everything worked out ok. Well so far anyway! Hopefully the MRI will come out negative too! Good luck. And stay away from those old shells from now on, just to be safe! :D

Elza
September 4, 2008, 10:53 AM
Nitrates cause the blood vessels to dilate thus lowering your blood pressure. It is used to treat angina. Nor does it cause the pupils constrict.

Iíve been shooting for 40 years and never heard of anything like this. There are problems that can be associated with shooting as stated by Cosmoline. However, these are long term effects.

rcmodel
September 4, 2008, 12:08 PM
Maybe the old shells had been setting on a shelf in grandpas barn for 30 years.
Next to the DDT fly spray concentrate!

Farmers used to spray the cows twice a day at milking time with chemicals that would kill a horse ten times over nowadays, according to the EPA.

A good friend lost his house to a leaking 5 gallon can of 2-4-D weed spray concentrate three years ago.

It was stored in the root cellar under the house and the bottom rusted out.
Dumped the contents in the soil under the house, and the furnace sucked it into the plaster walls.
The house is still uninhabitable after extensive clean-up and airing out for 2 - 3 years.

Almost killed the guy & his wife, and they are still suffering symptoms very much like you described.

rcmodel

Cosmoline
September 4, 2008, 12:42 PM
There's also the nitrate/nitrite issue with all burned powders, but the precise health impact of nitrites seems to be at issue. I've also heard you can get exposure from eating recooked spinach, so who knows. I don't think this causes any reaction though other than in infants.

My bet is an alergic reaction to some weird chemical they were using on the shells. Did you say they were paper?

Carl N. Brown
September 4, 2008, 01:17 PM
After my stepdad died, I received some shotgun shells mostly plastic
but some paper hulled. This thread conjured up a memory of his basement
workshop. Who knows what could have gotten on or in paper shotshells
after decades of storage in a basement workshop?

Aren't all smokeless powders nitrocellulose?

Most rod-shaped rifle powders are single-base nitrocellulose.
Flake powders used for pistol and shotgun (like Unique) are double-based
nitrocellulose with nitroglycerin.

Anyone remember seeing that letter?

Yes. If smokeless powder gives off a colored gas when opened and
exposed to air, it has gone bad. The gas is poisonous and the
powder should be disposed of by spreading it loosely outdoors
and burning it. Observe all open-air fire precautions and don't
breath the vapors. The gas tends to be reddish IIRC.

That's why indoor ranges need to be well ventilated.

A while back the FBI firing range at FBI HQ was closed to tourists until
they upgraded the ventilation system to carry the fumes DOWNRANGE and OUT.
Gives me one more reason to like to shoot outdoors and to hate indoor ranges.

A hallucination is just a modification of what's actually there.
Ie: Talking to somebody with a bubbling forehead.

If you are talking to someone with a bubbling forehead, you are not
hallucinating: you are at a Star Trek convention talking to a Klingon.

KBintheSLC
September 4, 2008, 02:52 PM
Can vapors from firing old ammo be toxic?

I'm pretty sure that any ammo vapors/particles are toxic... doesn't matter if it is old or new. Prolonged exposure in poorly ventilated areas can lead to serious health problems.

csay
September 15, 2008, 07:23 AM
For those interested in the outcome, my doctor gave me a clean bill of health. CT scan, MRI were both normal. All other tests A-OK. Just some freak reaction to what I inhaled.

Eric F
September 15, 2008, 08:29 AM
Well thats great as to the cause..............the world may never know.............

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