I just recently took up firearms after a long hiatus. Actually, I've always wanted to sooner, just never had the means. Now, instead of borrowing, I shoot my G***k 19 and Springfield 1911. (I'm trying to decide the debate between 9mm vs 45 and Glock vs 1911 myself :eek: ) Anyway, I shoot mostly jacketed bullets, always at an indoor range.
Now, when I'm done shooting I can blow my nose and have a black hankie. So, I know I'm breathing this "stuff" in. I worry about lead contamination of myself and clothes that come home from the range. I always shower after a range session and wash my clothes (or hands before I eat if we stop before getting home).
I'm curious, how prevalent is lead contamination from shooting? Is is a big problem or has it been overstated? Do you worry about it? Do you get yourself tested? How dangerous is it?
I don't expect exact answers as I'm not sure there are any, but your general thoughts about lead and our hobby are appreciated.
If you enjoyed reading about "Lead contamination and our hobby." here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
November 26, 2003, 03:27 PM
What you see in your hankie isn't just lead, Powder smoke too.
You need to find a better range. Right away. The range you're at doesn't have enough air circulation. Not good for the ol' lungs.
November 26, 2003, 03:44 PM
Wash your hands right afterwards with COLD water. The cold keeps your pores closed.
If you're really worried, having your body lead level tested is easy. Most competitive shooters and/or heavy reloaders casting their own slugs do so on a regular basis.
November 26, 2003, 03:53 PM
I've only ever met one person who got lead poisoning from shooting activities. But he had casted his own bullets for years.
I don't like to shoot indoors, but that is because I have asthma anyway, and I have a hard time breathing after much time in an indoor range.
November 26, 2003, 04:58 PM
And remember you can always wear a face mask. It's not actually done often that I've seen, as it gets too hot and uncomfortable.
But nobody ever minds. They all know shooting indoors is bad for you, they have simply chosen not to take all available precautions.
November 26, 2003, 05:14 PM
I'm actually more worried about the passive smoking in the clubhouse. ;)
But I do avoid the fine dust of the backstop and wash my hands afterwards, especially before eating or drinking anything.
November 26, 2003, 05:31 PM
What makes no sense to me is the clubs who have banned jacketed bullets indoors, requiring lead only to preserve their backstops at the expense of the health of the shooters. Of course, it's the shooters themselves making those decisions at their board meetings. It just doesn't make much sense to get a couple years more out of a backstop over the health of the shooters.
November 26, 2003, 05:41 PM
Within a very few years look for the EPA to get involved or a ranges insurance rates will have another reason to go up. I know of one "LEO only" indoor range that gets visits from the EPA, only a matter of time before "private, open to the public" will have a set of reg's laid on them for "the sake of the children."
November 27, 2003, 07:30 PM
Lead poisoning typically only affects children under 6 years of age. During this time accumulation of lead in the child can lead to many health problems, but most noticeable a drop in IQ. Adults have little to worry about (excluding pregnant women).
If children are taken shooting regurlarly, they should be taken to a range that is well ventilated. They should also always wash their hands when they are done. The most prominant source method of lead poisoning in humans is from eating it (typically children putting old lead based paint in their mouth from old houses that have peeling paint).
I don't know why the EPA are showing up at ranges - they haven't set a MCL (maximum contaminant level) for lead, yet. Much less the EPA is a federal entity, and state level enviromental divisions should be making site visits.
November 28, 2003, 10:42 AM
The indoor range I visit occasionally always has this oldfart there who shoots soft cast lead blackpowder revolvers. Really pisses everyone off with the smoke and stink. Thank God the range has decent ventilation... I dont thin the led pisonin his aficted meh yeeett.. :(
Although when I collect my brass my hands are usually completely blackened. 5 min with a bar or soap and some hot water usually fixes that though.
November 28, 2003, 11:28 AM
Why would anyone shoot indoors without a mask? Get some surgical masks from a drug store or industrial supply place and forget about the lead/smoke.
"...Adults have little to worry about..." That's not true. Especially if you're rolling your own cast bullets AND shooting inside. Shot with a guy long ago who had to quit for several months to clear out his blood. He was casting his own bullets inside with squat ventilation and we shot inside and he had some work related contamination too. It does take a while and most doctors do not have the facilities to check for lead.
November 28, 2003, 12:09 PM
Are indoor ranges dangerous for lactating women?
November 28, 2003, 12:18 PM
I have an uncle who's been casting and shooting lead bullets for over forty years. I asked him the other day if he ever had his lead levels checked, he said he did everytime he had a physical and they were always normal.
As said before, wash your hands after shooting, reloading or handling lead.
November 28, 2003, 01:32 PM
First off lead poisoning can kill you. So is lead dangerous, yes.
With basic precautions you can enjoy shooting sports without fears of lead poisoning.
Shooting range precautions:
Do not "broom" the concrete range floor. This raises the dust and particulate lead into the air so you can breath it. Not good.
Do not eat, drink, smoke or put anything in your mouth until after you have washed up after shooting. The most common way for lead to enter an adult's system is through ingestion.
Try to shoot in a well ventilated range. Not always possible so we work with what we have.
After the range session:
Wash with COLD water after shooting. Wash off all exposed areas, your face, neck arms hands etc. For this reason I always recommend a long sleeved shirt and no shorts when shooting.
Take the range clothes and put them in the laundry.
Clean off your range bag. Watch where you set this bag. You probably put it on the floor or on shooting station at the range. Don't put it on your kitchen couter for example.
Most ranges have sticky mats at the exit so use them. If not just rinse your shoes off if you want. Not really a big deal though.
Do not eat, drink, smoke or put anything in your mouth until after you have washed up after cleaning. The most common way for lead to enter an adult's system is through ingestion.
Do not clean firearms in areas where you eat or prepare food. Not always possible so use newspaper and other covers to protect the area.
People who should not go to ranges:
Children under 7 years old.
Pregnant or lactating women who can pass lead to their babies.
The lead can have very bad effects on children as mentioned in posts above.
The black you blow out of your nose is all the crap in the air not just lead. The range needs better ventilation, but that is not always under your control.
Unless you are on a "hot" range as a full time job you probably won't have a problem as a shooter. Now casting lead bullets is a whole other ball game and you really need to take a bunch of precautions.
I've spent a lot of time on "hot" ranges as a shooter and Range Officer. I had my lead level tested just to check it out. It was a trace amount, the doc said that was fine.
The EPA issued a Best Management Practices (BMP) in 2003. You can submit your range under the program and the EPA will issue a letter of compliance. Basically, the EPA doesn't want to be dragged into fights where neighbors are trying to close a range using lead as a issue.
Have fun shooting.
fred in nc
November 28, 2003, 04:21 PM
The fact is the significant component that exposes people to lead is the primer, not the projectile, as was proven by a researcher in Australia who found that the lead in the blood of shooter/reloaders was rich in lead isotopes originating in North America but relatively low in isotopes native to Australia. Primers mostly come from North America; most Aussie reloaders use domestic bullets. Lead in primers is from lead styphnate, the load salt of a first cousin of picric acid. Ventilation is the key to limiting exposure, though good personal cleanliness & frequent handwashing helps.
I chatted with an engineer for Winchester. He feels that non-lead primers will be develped to the point that reloaders will have reliable ones in about a decade. There is commercial non-lead-primed ammo today but it is mostly gallery & target loads; it is good, safe, and reliable at least used fresh. The key to manufacture is low controlled humidity during loading. Moisture sensitivity is the current barrier for the handloader and it remains to be worked out. Just picture some doofus "drying out about a thousand primers in his wife's gas oven in the kitchen at home & you'll get the idea.
It will come: the driving force is the US military under pressure to limit its contamination of the environment ith lead. Meanwhile, shoot where the ventilation is good, keep your equipment clean, and wash your hands.
November 28, 2003, 08:25 PM
Several posters here seem to be highly educated on this subject.
So....what are your thoughts on the new "Nontox" Sellier&Bellot ammo and/or Winchester "Winclean"?
I usually shoot outdoors(factory FMJ/JHP 9mm/.38 Special and Russian 7.62X39), and want to minimize exposure to bad things; I'm thinking the Wolf Ammo powder may not be too healthy to breath :confused:
November 28, 2003, 10:46 PM
FireInTheHole: COLD WATER. Hot water opens the pores and the lead rushes in.
Well, the residue from the gunpowder is pretty harmless, so the soot of cheap stuff like Wolf isn't as nasty as it looks. As stated, the primers are the big problem. Driving soft-cast lead ahead of too strong a charge will burn away the rear end of the slug; most of it will then stick to the barrel wall but some will fly out. Most factory loads don't lead up barrels badly but any load that IS leading your barrel a lot is probably also sending a lot of airborn lead out, some of which blows back at you. Handloaders should be watching for this.
There's a kit available from "The Hanned Line" I think it is, that allows you to punch out disks of aluminum sheet from beer and soda cans and then punch them into gas checks. So once you have the tool, you have unlimited free gas checks. Gas checks act as a "heat shield" at the rear of a lead slug, which gives you advantages:
1) You can run a soft lead round up at higher velocity without leading, due to the "heat shield effect";
2) Accuracy can be better with such softer lead grades as the bullet fills the grooves better.
3) Soft lead at high speed can give a heck of a "splat" effect even without a hollowpoint. Run a dead-soft Keith-type SWC 158grain @ 1,400fps or better and the lack of a hollow won't matter.
4) If this understanding of barrel leading is correct and it's not "friction contact between bullet and barrel wall" that causes it but rather ignition frying the bullet's hind end, then a gas check is going to affect airborn lead to at least some degree.
Finally, we know that it's the cast-bullet people most at risk from lead toxicity. Is it possible that at least some of that is because these are handloaders running their cast loads too hot and tolerating the barrel leading that "goes with it", and breathing at least some of that lead at the range?
If so, a lifetime's supply of gas checks for the cost of a tool seems like it'd be part of the solution...?
November 28, 2003, 11:01 PM
The problem is lead vapor.
That only happens when the molten lead is overheated. If the temperature of the molten lead is properly controlled, lead vapor should never be a problem.
Gas checks probably do reduce lead exposure to shooters. I think it's been shown that the lead from the bullet doesn't get into the air much during firing. As mentioned, it's the lead in the priming compound that is the primary inhalation risk for shooters.
November 29, 2003, 01:41 AM
I think it's been shown that the lead from the bullet doesn't get into the air much during firing. As mentioned, it's the lead in the priming compound that is the primary inhalation risk for shooters.
John, I'm sorta calling that into question in situations where handloaders run cast rounds too hot and are getting barrel-leading issues. Where that is happening, I suspect significant bullet lead is getting into the air.
That situation doesn't happen very often with factory rounds, and I suspect the testing done to date has involved factory loads.
Now, I could be wrong, but...dunno, I think the above makes sense.
lee n. field
November 29, 2003, 10:34 AM
I'm curious, how prevalent is lead contamination from shooting? Is is a big problem or has it been overstated? Do you worry about it? Do you get yourself tested?
And see also here, for my lead scare
November 29, 2003, 11:43 AM
Thread has me thinking....Regarding the dust mask, do you think they are good enough, or is that merely a "feel good" thing? I only ask because those are good for things like sawdust and whatnot, but lead vapor? I just don' t know. I don't see myself with a full resperator @ the range, but I wonder what level of protection you really need to get to be really safe. I only go about once a month now, so I don't worry too much about it.
November 29, 2003, 01:30 PM
I like to arrive at the indoor range as it opens (I usually go on Saturday). The air quality is always best then and there are fewer shooters. Quieter too!
November 29, 2003, 04:19 PM
Lead awareness has definitely been lacking for kids. Growing up I was mostly unaware of the dangers of:
shooting .22LR competition twice a week in many different ranges, some not ventillated
soldering ciruit boards and metal parts
handling lead fishing weights and biting them to clamp them onto the line
carrying Civil War bullets in my pockets, cuz they were cool
I did become aware and more careful, but not until after many years of unneccessary exposure. Last year I had my lead levels checked and they were within normal ranges. I'd like to have been tested as a kid though.
Mercury exposure is also a big issue. "Silver" fillings are quietly being phased out around the world because they actually contain @ 50% mercury.
November 29, 2003, 04:59 PM
Lead poisoning typically only affects children under 6 years of age. During this time accumulation of lead in the child can lead to many health problems, but most noticeable a drop in IQ. Wow. And I've been shooting since I was 2...
Is there any way of reversing this IQ thing, or should I give up all hope and just aim for a career in politics? :D
Seriously, I do wash my hands, and I do my bullet casting outdoors. OTOH I work with some people who can remember the "old" days when they used lead types in printing. Some of them talk about how they used to boil water for their coffee by placing the kettle directly on the molten lead. As far as I know, none of these people have had health problems from lead poisoning.
November 29, 2003, 08:43 PM
Heck, Jim, I've never done any studies or seen the results from any that I can recall--so I'm really just trying to think my way through this--you could call it guessing if you want! ;)
Anyway, I think most jacketed bullets--even many rifle bullets--have exposed lead bases. That makes me think that if the gases from the powder combustion are getting lead into the air from the bullet, it's going to happen on practically any high velocity bullet whether it's jacketed or not.
So, keeping that in mind and reading the information from the gentleman who quoted the Australian study is what made me say that the priming compound was the main source.
NOW, on the other hand, there are a couple of lead free ranges in my area--one in particular that I'm familiar with. They have a special rubber backstop to prevent the bullets from being deformed excessively and only allow lead-free primed ammo shooting jacketed bullets that enclose the base with the jacket. So, since they're not allowing any exposed lead on the base of the bullet, it follows that erosion from the combustion process must account for some lead exposure.
It would be interesting to find if someone has done a proper study to quantify the sources more precisely...
November 30, 2003, 12:38 AM
What are the symptoms of adult lead poisoning?
Thx for the tip w/ the cold water... hmm.
C. H. Luke
November 30, 2003, 05:33 PM
We used to use Dermashield at my Clubs Indoor Range:
What health concerns are associated with lead contamination?
Lead poisoning is a particularly insidious public health threat because there may be no unique signs or symptoms. Early symptoms of lead exposure may include persistent fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, reduced attention span, insomnia, and constipation. Failure to treat lead poisoning in the early stages can cause long-term or permanent health damage, but because of the general nature of symptoms at early stages, lead poisoning is often not suspected.
In adults, lead poisoning can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination, and nerve damage to the sense organs and nerves controlling the body. It may cause increased blood pressure, hearing and vision impairment, and reproductive problems (e.g., decreased sperm count). It also can retard fetal development even at relatively low levels.
In children, lead poisoning can cause brain damage, mental retardation, behavioral problems, anemia, liver and kidney damage, hearing loss, hyperactivity, developmental delays, other physical and mental problems, and in extreme cases, death. Although the effects of lead exposure are a potential concern for all humans, young children (0 to 7 years old) are the most at risk. This increased vulnerability results from a combination of the following factors:
- Children typically have higher intake rates per unit body weight for environmental media (such as soil, dust, food, water, air, and paint) than adults, since they are more likely to play in dirt and put their hands and other objects in their mouths;
- Children tend to absorb a higher fraction of ingested lead from the gastrointestinal tract than adults;
- Children tend to be more susceptible than adults to the adverse neurological and developmental effects of lead; and
- Nutritional deficiencies of iron or calcium, which are prevalent in children, may facilitate lead absorption and exacerbate the toxic effects of lead.
The current blood lead level of concern in children is 10 micrograms (µg) of lead per deciliter (dL) of blood (10 µg/dL). However, since adverse effects may occur at lower levels than previously thought, various Federal agencies are considering whether this level should be lowered further.
November 30, 2003, 11:14 PM
We had a case here Australia, where the Police Service was prosecuted after firearms instructors working on indoor ranges were found to have elevated blood lead levels:
I had a lead expert as a witness in another case involving lead (this time not on firing ranges), and I had a chat with him about the question. According to him there are a number of sources of lead on a firing range, including the lead styphnate in the primers and lead atomised by the hot gases at the base of the bullet appearing in a plume at the muzzle, as well lead atomised at the stop butt and recirculated by inadequate ventilation, which may be inhaled. There's also lead from unjacketed and part-jacketed bullets, fired cases and in the firearm after use, which gets on the hands and may then be ingested. Lead is a cumulative poison and harmful not only to children and pregnant or lactating women, but to all.
Personally I prefer not to use indoor ranges, and I wash my hands carefully after shooting at the range and after reloading.
December 4, 2003, 04:16 PM
One source of lead not mentioned is smoking. Cigarette smoke actually contains lead. In addition smokers inhale deeply when they are taking a drag. If the ambient air in the area contains any lead it will be inhaled deeply into the lungs.
Most shooters wash their hands before eating but none of them will wash their hands before smoking. The lead salt (primer residue) contamination from the primers is transmitted directly to the mouth by smoking.
There are many factors affecting lead poisoning, smoking is one of many factors.
December 4, 2003, 10:02 PM
So, what is the level of lead in blood that is considered harmful? Anyone with a guess? My blood lead level count was 35 about 5 years ago and my HMO primary physician didn't think that was something to worry about. But, get this. A fellow shooter (who is a federal marshal) was put on disability leave because his tested level was - 21! One range I was working at a long time ago, would put you on leave if you tested at or above 15. Seems like no-one can make up their mind as to what level is considered to be top end. BTW, EPA here has some funny rules about removing lead from the dirt down range. If you don't disturb it, it's ok even if it's a foot or more high. BUT, if you plan to shovel-move-disturb it, you're in big trouble unless you have a Haz-mat approved company do it. Even the ventilation filters have to be kept in Haz-mat approved containers until a approved company can come and get it. EVERY 6 months. Guess my years of shoveling lead and re-loading had finally caught up to me. Man, did SHTF when my family knew about my lead level.
December 5, 2003, 02:33 PM
What about steel targets? I have a small revolving .22 steel target and a bigger 3/8" steel pistol target. Do these targets need to be cleaned off somehow before I store them back in my workshop/garage?
If you enjoyed reading about "Lead contamination and our hobby." here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!