Lead Dust - What am I missing?


January 13, 2013, 11:30 PM
With a newborn in the house, my wife insisted I stop reloading to prevent our son from being exposed to lead dust. I managed a compromise.

We tested various surfaces around the house for lead, and only hit one positive on a carpet that was near my corn cob tumbler. I threw away the carpet. No signs of lead anywhere else in the house - "for now" as she puts it. I've made a number of changes to my reloading setup - but is there anything I'm missing? I know lead can mess a child up quite a bit, and his health (and my wife's happiness) is more important than my reloading. I have enough ammo to shoot if I have to put it off for a few years.

I reload pistol and rifle - no shotgun shot to worry about. I do not cast my own bullets, so nothing to worry about there. I only load FMJ bullets now, but the pistol bullets have an exposed base.

I ditched the media in my corn cob tumbler, cleaned it and stored it. I'll save it for tumbling lube off of rifle cases. I purchased a Thumler's Tumbler Model B to wet tumble my brass in stainless steel media. The thing works like a charm, even if you can only tumble small batches at a time. I pour the dirty water down the toilet.

Primers, when decaped, go straight into a 2-liter soda bottle via a hose, which is capped when I'm finished for the day. The shop vac has a HEPA filter on it to keep things clean. Dirty brass is stored in plastic jars until I decap and tumble it. All reloading activity takes place in a shed/workshop attached to the back of the house. My son doesn't come out there now, but in a few years when he is older he will.

When I get back from the range, outer layers of clothes go straight into the washing machine, and I take a shower to get the dust (if any) out of my hair. I keep a pair of range shoes in the car that never come inside.

Is there anything I'm missing? I know I can't be 100% safe unless I stop going to the range - and that's a last resort. I'm waiting for the results of a blood test for my lead level as well. Your input is appreciated.

If you enjoyed reading about "Lead Dust - What am I missing?" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
January 13, 2013, 11:51 PM
I notice when I de-prime there is always a little puff of dust coming from the spent primer. I'll wager it contains a good amount of lead waste (lead oxide?) from the lead in the primer.
Personally, I would never de-prime or separate dry media from brass in a house with children.

January 13, 2013, 11:51 PM
IMO, the main culprit is the tumbler. The lead styphnate residue is always in the media. And when you handle the media, you are handling lead.

I take my tumbler outside to dump it through the media separator, and I wear nitrile gloves while doing it.

As soon as I have separated the brass, I bring it back inside the house. The tumbler stays in the garage.

So far, no positive lead tests.

The powder, tumbled cases, primers, bullets, etc. are fine.

And, as you've gone to a wet tumbling method, you don't have to go outside... :)

Hondo 60
January 14, 2013, 12:33 AM
Sounds like you have a pretty good handle on things.

To lower my lead level, I gave up lead bullets.
I don't think the reloading aspect was the culprit.
I think SHOOTING them & breathing in the smoke/dust was the issue.

January 14, 2013, 12:44 AM
Most of the lead when firing is from the primer, not the bullet.

January 14, 2013, 12:49 AM
Leaving your range shoes in the car is fine as long as the kid doesnt ride in the car.

There is a product called D-Wipes that I suggest you buy.

I would start using CMJ bullets as there is no exposed lead base. Montana Gold sells them.

Good air flow works wonders.

I use gallon freezer bags and 5 gallon buckets for brass storage.

January 14, 2013, 12:59 AM
Kudos to you and your wife for:

A - thinking of how your environment will impact your child

B - working together to get a solution that works for everyone

It's very refreshing to see intelligence, love, and teamwork in a marriage.

It sounds like you've got a good handle on things.

January 14, 2013, 01:08 AM
Reloading and small children don't mix.
Figure around $9000 to have the hospital pump out that loose primer that your rug rat ingested.
And a possible surprise visit from Child Protective Services.

January 14, 2013, 01:31 PM
It's a terrible overreaction to say that reloading and children do not mix. As the OP is doing, just be intelligent and eliminate the risk by managing the hazardous elements. Worried about a primer being swallowed? Clean up what you drop. Worried about lead dust? Don't tumble or sift media inside, period. Segregate spent primers with a tube and bottle as the OP is doing. Work on hard surfaces and clean up with a damp towel to capture dust. Wear separate shoes just for reloading. Lead from reloading is not vaporous and it's not airborne for long before it settles out on surfaces. Lead is also a natural element, one that our bodies do not need and that's toxic. It's in our water in minute quantities, it's in our soil. Very small traces of lead in our bodies are not known to cause harm and the exposure to unavoidable background lead in our environement will likely far exceed anything you'd be exposing your family to while reloading. My son, now 5 years old, has been helping me reload on occasion for a couple of years now. He still loves to put the bullets on the cases before I seat them and helps box up all the ammo we've assembled in a session. His lead levels are non detectible they're so low.

January 14, 2013, 01:59 PM
I've cast lead and reloaded since long before my 4 kids were born. ONCE one of them did come back with a positive elevated lead level.

The state agent came out and swabbed many areas of our house, including my stuff.

Final culprit? My wife's car keys.

Lead is a serious concern, but a completely manageable one. Like many other things we're on a current binge to regulate, a few reasonable precautions take care of the vast majority of the potential issues.

It sounds like the steps you're taking are quite adequate to keep any exposure at bay.

January 14, 2013, 02:09 PM
the kid would have to stuff primers in his cheek like a wad of Red Man to get enough lead to harm him..

but try telling that to a first time mother..

January 14, 2013, 02:18 PM

Both mine grew up 35-40 years ago helping me cast bullets and count & box them.

One owns his own ISP now, and the other one is a machinist making 5.56 penetrators for the new 5.56 NATO EPR ammo.

Hard to tell what they would have accomplished without all that exposure to reloading!


January 14, 2013, 03:31 PM
I see a lot of residue on my hands when shooting revolvers. When finished shooting, I wash my hands before I get in the car. Steering wheel, shifter, seats, etc... everywhere your hand touches during the drive home.

January 14, 2013, 03:44 PM
As you probably know, lead causes brain damage. It is worse in children since their brains are growing and developing. When being exposed to a steady environmental lead source, children's brains don't develop normally and it has been blamed for the increased rate of autism. Children with lead exposure have lower IQs and graduate from school at a decreased rate from children who never were exposed.
Since leaded gas has been removed from sale and paint doesn't contain it anymore, the rate of contamination has decreased. Toys from China has been a big source lately.

Actually, your child is in more danger if there is an asphalt plant near your home or the school he'll be attending. They use contaminated fuel from old submerged gas tanks in the asphalt and the lead escapes into the air.
I think your reloading recreation is less of a threat but one that should be taken into account .. which you wisely have.

January 14, 2013, 07:59 PM
Taking sensible precautions is wise.
But seriously, there is a lot more lead in toys than your reloading produces.

January 15, 2013, 07:48 AM
I ran the base firing range for 16 years.

Daily exposure to gunfire...from 1000 rounds to perhaps 20000.

I also (along with the other instructors) manually dug out the chunks of lead from our dirt backstops...using a screen to shake the dirt and dust so we only removed the larger pieces that might contribute to bounceback.

No...face masks were never used.

It must have been safe because the VA says that I was never exposed to lead.

January 15, 2013, 08:01 AM
It must have been safe because the VA says that I was never exposed to lead.

What the VA says is a thread and forum all to its own. :D

I think while as long as you keep being cautious about the possibility of lead exposure you will be just fine. I think you're doing a great job at taking precautions.

January 15, 2013, 11:31 AM
I went to college in Birmingham Ala. about 40+ years ago. The VA hospital there was doing studies on lead poisoning and found that most of the adult cases were from drinking moonshine since it was distilled with car radiators that contained lead solder.

Remember, always use old copper radiators to distill your moonshine. ;)

January 15, 2013, 11:47 AM
Anyone know where I can buy lead swabs to test surfaces? I reload indoors (tumble/sift outdoors) and have small kids in the area. I try to be careful about letting them handle brass, etc. (wash hands afterward, no handling dirty brass, etc.) but I'm curious about their (and my) lead levels.

January 15, 2013, 12:59 PM
You can pick up lead test kits at most any hardware store. Try Home Depot or Lowes.

January 15, 2013, 06:08 PM
Thank you everyone for all of the feedback.

Just to follow up - range shoes are kept in a zippered nylon duffle bag in the trunk of the car; just in case his stroller, etc... have to travel in the trunk the shoes come out.

According to my January blood test, my lead level is 9, which I'm told is average.

Now I just have to wait for New York State to make the possession of more than 5 lbs of lead illegal, or to pass some other asinine law to punish law-abiding gun owners.

John C
January 15, 2013, 07:29 PM

Do you shoot at an indoor range? How often do you shoot? I'm just curious, since although your blood lead level isn't outrageous, it is higher than zero. I'm wondering how much shooting indoors you need to do to get a number like that.

As for me, I just throw my shoes into the clothes washer along with my range clothes after shooting. I wear sneakers, so the washing just leaves them nice and clean.



January 15, 2013, 07:43 PM

I shoot at an indoor range usually once a week with about a dozen other people for IDPA. I usually manage to send just under 100 rounds down range each week, depending on how much time we spend shooting vs. talking bs. Of course with New York's new gun control laws, I imagine there will be a lot of talk this week.

The indoor range is getting a new ventilation system installed this year - that should make a difference too. And they are purchasing two new floor cleaners, so that should help as well.

January 15, 2013, 09:04 PM

check items 5 and 6. I reload and cast and never had a high lead level test, checked once a year.

January 16, 2013, 08:10 AM
lol...We also had to sweep the floor in the indoor range daily. God, how we used to kick up the dust clouds.

I wonder if I was once *really* smart?

January 16, 2013, 01:35 PM
I didn't know the lead tests kits were so reasonably priced. Consumer Reports says $8 - 30. Number of uses listed "2 - Many". Headed to Lowe's today.
I hand load quite a bit during winter months, shoot outdoors couple times a month.
My first blood test for lead was last year (11). Awaiting the results of last week's test.
My grandchildren help me handload and have for some years. We have and use the D-Lead and D-Wipe products in the loading room and at the range.

January 16, 2013, 02:31 PM
With a newborn in the house, my wife insisted I stop reloading to prevent our son from being exposed to lead dust.

I've been in your situation. A lot of mothers with newborns instantly turn into germ-a-phobes and are super vigilant about the child's safety at the expense of logic. My wife turned into a different person once our daughter was born. I wonder sometimes how I made it to adulthood, given the fact that my own mother allowed me to go outside without sunscreen, drink water from the garden hose, touch door handles when in public, ride in the back of our pickup truck, and even go hunting with my uncle.

January 16, 2013, 03:08 PM
Dr B:
My brother and I grew up when my mother was divorced and had to work 2 jobs so we were responsible for cleaning the house. You can imagine how ineffective we were.
When she remarried and had more children, she stayed home and turned into a dirt freak. The 2 youngest kids have some crazy syndrome that the doctors say is due to NOT being exposed to enough germs while their immune systems were developing.

Whatever doesn't kills us, makes us stronger.

January 16, 2013, 05:25 PM
Germs are one thing... toxic heavy metals are another. You don't develop antibodies or immunity to the latter. No reason not to be careful with youngins around.

March 2, 2013, 11:42 PM
Wow, gauging from the replies in this thread, I suppose I shouldn't tell you that I let my 5 years old help me reload. She love watching the progressive press does its work. :what:

Needless to say, she also know she must wash her hand after she touch anything that has anything to do with firearm. She also knows better not do go near by the tumbler. Did you know the most efficient way to take in lead is by breathing in lead dust? If I remember correctly, our body retain something like 90% of lead particle when its introduce thru lung.

Just use common sense, take necessary precaution. No is no need to stop reloading altogether.


March 2, 2013, 11:55 PM
When I started reloading and the collateral duties that go with it (collecting, sorting, tumbling brass, etc.) I asked my doc to add the lead test to my annual battery of blood tests.

FYI, this also includes shooting at an indoor range once a week or so. It has been about five years now and I have never come up above 10.

Lead exposure has the potential to be an issue, but if you take reasonable precautions, it is a negligible one.

Couple of weeks ago I was in an Office Depot looking for eraser refills. Two women nearby were looking at the mechanical pencils and 'lead" refills, cluck-clucking about how terrible it was the "they" sell "lead" in the store. I just shook my head and walked away. The unreasoned panic that the MSM spreads daily is amazing...and the ignorance of the public moreso.

Now I just have to wait for New York State to make the possession of more than 5 lbs of lead illegal, or to pass some other asinine law to punish law-abiding gun owners.
I don't think you will be waiting long. :eek: Between Cuomo and Bloomberg, count on it.

March 3, 2013, 12:50 AM
If you have copper plumbing in your house there is a good chance that the connections were soldered together with solder containing lead. If you have city water and the water tower is old there is a good chance that the inside of the tower was coated with lead paint.
As you charge a lead acid battery in your car, boat or lawn mower it gives off a lead acid gas. If you have a house full of antiques there a good chance of lead being present. If you have old artwork there is a good chance it has lead in the paint.
Point of story; lead is everywhere and it is correct to be vigilant. To be truly vigilant you need to know where all the sources of lead are.

March 3, 2013, 07:02 AM
Kudos on all the advice. WASH YOUR HANDS after each session with the guns---at the range, at the reloading bench, at the tumbler, handling lead (or fishing sinkers), etc. Do not have snacks or drinks at the reloading bench or tumbler area----

March 4, 2013, 12:19 PM
Wash your hands after handling lead (or going to the bathroom, or doctoring the horses, or petting your dog or cat, etc) and don't check your gas tank with a match. All pretty sensible procedures.

If you enjoyed reading about "Lead Dust - What am I missing?" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!