“The all-American pastime of squeezing off a few rounds at the range is riskier than many realize,” thetrace.org warns, unsurprisingly. “A new analysis of 40 years of research demonstrates that gun range customers and staffers are at high risk of exposure to dangerous amounts of lead, from inhaling smoke and tiny bits of bullets that float through the air after crashing into targets.”

The elevated levels are present after just a day or two of shooting and can linger for months. In one of the studies reviewed, the mean lead level in a class of police cadets increased more than sixfold from 6 micrograms per deciliter of blood on the first day of training to more than 15 micrograms per deciliter after five days of training.

Even 69 days after the training, the cadets’ blood level remained at an average of 9 micrograms per deciliter. An estimated one million American police officers train with guns at indoor ranges, according to the study.

“Nearly all [blood lead level] measurements compiled in this study exceed” the CDC’s maximum safe level, the study’s authors wrote.

The study goes on to say that lead exposure varies according to the efficacy of the range’s ventilation system. So there is that. In any case, how worried are you about lead exposure from shooting? What steps do you take — if any — to minimize the risk?

71 Responses to CapArms Question of the Day: Are You Worried About Lead Exposure?

  1. I’m tested for lead exposure every few years and so far, there’s nothing. And I shoot a lot. So I’m thinking that The Trace’s feigned concern for our welfare is just another crock from Bloombag.

    • Yep…never trust content from The Trace. If they said the sky was blue, I’d go outside and double check.

    • I’m a PD firearms instructor and spend hours and hours and hours at the range every month. I get tested every sixth months and never have had an issue. I agree.

  2. I avoid indoor ranges because I simply don’t like them. I also wash my hands before I eat.

    Those two facts make lead a non-issue for me.

    • I prefer to do my shooting outside, away from the (as DMX calls it), “nonstop pop pop of stainless steel.”

      But there is a great, new indoor range near me with really good facilities and ventilation. So I don’t mind shooting there occasionally.

  3. “OSHA has set a PEL (enforceable) of lead in workplace air at 50 µg/m3 averaged over an 8-hour workday for workers in general industry.

    For those exposed to air concentrations at or above the action level of 30 µg/m3 for more than 30 days per year, OSHA mandates periodic determination of BLLs.

    If a BLL is found to be greater than 40 µg/dL, the worker must be notified in writing and provided with a medical examination.

    If a worker’s one-time BLL reaches 60 µg/dL (or averages 50 µg/dL or more on three or more tests), the employer is obligated to remove the employee from excessive exposure, with maintenance of seniority and pay, until the employee’s BLL falls below 40 µg/dL.” – https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=8

    a mean of 15µg/dL is nothing to get panties bunched for.

    • I do find it interesting that they used the CDC 10ug/dL level rather than the industry standard 40 used by OSHA for people who are EXPECTED to be exposed to lead.

  4. Didn’t we just cover this a little while ago?

    Anyway…

    Wash hands and face with tepid water and mild soap immediately after shooting, or as soon as possible. Do not eat or smoke until you have washed.
    Shower in tepid water and mild soap as soon as you can, washing your hair, then rinse thoroughly. Increase warmth of water for the rest of the shower if you want.
    Put all clothing exposed during shooting into the laundry. If possible, wash separately.
    Avoid personal contact with others, especially children, until you can wash and change clothes.

    If a shower is not possible, such as when camping, wash all exposed skin as soon as you can after shooting. Change clothes before you eat or sleep. You can use the same clothes to shoot the next time if you can’t wash them.

      • Pretty much… your point?

        The tepid water at first is an important part I forgot to emphasize. Hot water would drive the lead and other residue into the skin. Tepid water and mild soap tend to wash it off instead.

        • Actually soap only removes like 30% of the lead, you need a specialist cleaner (I use Lead-Away) to get the rest. There was an article in Concealed Carry magazine some months ago that cited a CDC study on this.

          Soap works by removing the oils on your skin, and incidentally also removes whatever’s suspended in the oils. Usually that’s enough but apparently the lead “likes” sticking to your skin more than normal contaminants do. The lead-away type products work by being something that lead “likes” sticking to even more.

          “Hot water would drive the lead and other residue into the skin”

          Yeah, I’m calling old wives’ tale on that one.

        • Inhalation and ingestion are the primary means of lead absorption. Since we no longer have leaded gasoline, transdermal absorption seldom occurs outside of people who work in the lead industry.

          Short of rolling around in a pile of lead dust, the amount of lead you would acquire transdermally at a range with no ventilation at all, is pissing in the ocean.

        • Eric – Don’t call old wives tale on this one. Anyone who works with fiberglass will also tell you to use tepid (or cold) water first. Hot water doesn’t “drive” the particulates in, it opens up the pores letting the particulates migrate in during washing.

  5. I was curious about this since I shoot indoors about three hours a month plus I reload. When I was in getting my blood work done 6 months ago I asked my doctor to add lead in the mix of tests. It didn’t come back with a red flag so I guess it was okay. I had nothing to compare it to so I might have it checked again after a year.

    • Definitely do it again in a year and a year after that. Healthy people should be getting blood work done once a year even if they don’t shoot. Just add lead into the mix.

  6. I have some concerns about the meta-study conducted, primarily around their contention around copper jacketed rounds vs unjacketed lead. I think they misunderstand the underlying studies. A copper jacketed round, where the base of the round is covered with copper (like the average JHP round) or a TMJ round (where the lead is totally encapsulated), will result in far less airborne lead where the shooter is located than an FMJ round where the inner lead is exposed at the base. With an exposed base, the lead can be vaporized by the burning of the powder, which will produce more airborne lead than a covered-base round (assuming a primer with lead styphnate or similar is used). This has been shown by several studies not used in the review.

    Having said that, modern lead-free primers are much better than those used even ten years ago in terms of consistency and longevity- at least for pistol rounds and things like .223. This looks to be a superior solution for indoor range use.

    Otherwise, basic hygiene rules help- don’t eat on the line, wash your hands or use lead-removal wipes after shooting, wipe your feet, wear a shooting jacket and take it off after shooting, etc. Other rules around how you clean cases for reloading (tumblers can generate a lot of dust) or cast lead will be useful.

    My guess is that the Trace is using this study to fearmonger, to try to scare new or prospective shooters away by emphasizing lead.

    • Read the actual study. It is a summery of the data from 36 studies over 40 years from all over the globe.

      • Meta-studies have their own problems, especially as concerns the number of degrees of freedom involved in selecting and weighting studies.

      • I did read the actual study, and my point remains- the study did not cover several other studies regarding the difference in airborne lead generation between jacketed bullets where the base was covered, vs jacketed bullets with exposed lead bases, and unjacketed lead bullets. This is important because this review suggested there was little difference between jacketed and unjacketed bullets, where more study would reveal that this isn’t the case.

  7. I clean up and dispose of hazardous waste for a living. (Hysterics like that make it a pretty good living too.) Since I regularly handle lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, etc I am tested quarterly. A test result anywhere near the PEL for these metals would sideline me for 4-6 weeks. I shoot a hundred rounds a week on my off time, and for ten years straight I haven’t strayed much from baseline. I shoot at an older range and I am not that lucky. If this “study” held water in the real world I am certain that I would have shown elevated lead or copper levels by now.

    • Very interesting. I shoot mostly outdoors, and it is usually windy there, but I take the basic precautions just in case. When I have to shoot indoors in the winter, I’m even more careful.

  8. Worried? Because of an article that tries to tell me that 6 x 6 = 15…? Hell, no.

    Wash hands and face, change clothes. I try to remember to put on nitrile gloves if I’m keeping my brass from the floor, and also avoid ranges with poor ventilation. That’s the extent of my “worry”.

  9. Increased more than sixfold from 6 to 15?

    Must be that special Trace Math I’ve been hearing about…

  10. I have been reloading for about 40 years, shooting for over 50. And I shoot a LOT.
    I wash after shooting with cold water and soap.
    Just had my complete physical in February.
    Blood levels were fine.
    I don’t do indoor ranges.

  11. Whether I shoot indoors or outdoors, I wash my hands when I am done. I also try to avoid delicious lead based paint chips that you might find lying around.

      • I’ve heard that the fact lead paint chips actually do taste sweet is why kids were chewing on them.

        A bit like the way ethylene glycol anti-freeze is toxic for animals…

        • Elemental lead does taste sweet, and in antiquity it has been used to sweeten wine and other foods. This alone suggests that the amount of lead an adult would need to consume before noticeable ill effects manifest is substantially more than one would be exposed to at a range. A range officer might have some concern, but even that I would call hyper-vigilant. I’ve never taken any precaution against lead ingestion in over 30 years of shooting, and have no elevated level of lead (I’ve been tested). Frankly, we used to worry more about mercury from old primers than the lead, and I never worried much about the mercury.

  12. The indoor range I use (and the only one in the area) has a ventilation system, a bullet trap instead of a backstop, thus eliminating bullet splatter, and a requirement that all ammunition be jacketed. Along with hand washing afterwards, I think my lead exposure is very minimal.

  13. I just wash my hands when I’m done shooting and shower when I get home. I’m a mechanic anyway so I’m sure I get exposed to all sorts of other stuff much more harmful on a day to day basis

  14. I work with exciting materials such as Sodium Cyanide, Methyl Chloride, Dimetyl Sulfide, and Phosphorus Trichloride for a living. I’m not too terribly concerned about some pretty low levels of lead exposure due to my hobby.

  15. I would say I am concerned about kids – and wouldn’t take young kids to the indoor range where I shoot, both for airborne lead and noise levels.

  16. Mostly a paper tiger. If you step outside the clean, idiot-proof consumer-product world there’re a lot of things you don’t want to absorb. What are you going to do, watch movies where people shoot? Live vicariously?

    I wash my hands and face. If I accidentally chugged a batch of used silencer juice I’d contact poison control and get tested.

  17. … gun range customers and staffers are at high risk of exposure to dangerous amounts of lead, from inhaling smoke and tiny bits of bullets that float through the air after crashing into targets.

    Yet another reason why I do not use indoor ranges!

  18. I’m not a growing child, postmenopausal woman or have a calcium deficiency so I’m not really worried. Most of my shooting is done outside anyway. So no, I’m not worried

  19. “… how worried are you about lead exposure from shooting? What steps do you take — if any — to minimize the risk?”

    I am not worried at all.

    First and foremost, I almost never shoot at an indoor range. Wherever I shoot, I simply wash my hands when I am done. That is the extent of my steps to mitigate lead exposure.

  20. Healthy people over 30 should be getting blood work done once a year for their annual checkup. I have high Triglycerides so I get it done twice a year. You can ask your primary care doctor to add additional tests for the blood work like lead. It won’t add time for you just money.

  21. I’m OCD. I only shoot outside using lead free ammo and I carry wipes. I work in healthcare. Total overkill? Absolutely. But there are so many other environmental toxins we are exposed to that we can’t do anything about. Therefore, I figure avoiding lead is a slam dunk.

    • Same here.
      Lead is nasty stuff (some interesting data how lead emissions in the past correspond to violent crime rates and teenage pregnancies down the line) so I only shoot lead free ammo. Sure, it is expensive, I can afford it.
      If I shoot indoors I go to a lead free range.
      To be honest, I am only paranoid because I have small kids. Once they grow up and move out I probably won’t give a damn, or at least will care much less.

  22. I’m not worried, but I do wash my hands after shooting (or rinse with water if out in the woods), and will try to rinse my face if I’m at the range. I also don’t like to breathe in the spent gas after each shot from my AR, but, it happens. Doesn’t keep me from shooting one bit.

  23. After breathing solder fumes over the last 40 years working in the electronics industry, how concerned am I of lead exposure from the minimal shooting in which I’m currently engaged?

    Not so much.

  24. Not worried or concerned, but I don’t go chewing on bullets or licking my fingers after shooting.

    I like that Hoppe’s makes those wipes, that’s kind of cool, I could see those being handy, but they’d probably dry out too soon.

  25. I use an indoor range, haven’t been tested. But the range officers are tested every six months. A few have been there since it opened a few years ago. Other, younger, RO’s leave for better jobs. The range has a huge filtration system, that, by all appearances, seems to be working.

    I am picky about spent rounds that land in the gun bag. Much more so than the other occupants who share the gun bag. My home doesn’t have a huge filtration system.

    • Yea – I’d be real concerned about that too. If you are on a range where spent rounds are falling close enough to you to land in your range bag I’d find another range.

      If you meant spent brass, well that’s different.

  26. Am I worried about lead exposure? No. My gun club has an outdoor range and I take a shower after shooting or reloading. These days, I shoot plated bullets, anyway.

  27. No problem for me. I use outdoor ranges with soft butt stops, so the closest I get to lead particulates is over 100 metres.

  28. Indoor ranges are nowhere near as bad as the old shooting galleries at Disneyland, before they converted them to the nowhere-near-as-fun laser guns.

    They used to use rifles that were hooked up to a big air compressor, and we’d load them with tubes of lead pellets. At the end of the day, our hands were covered in lead, and we would blow black snot into a Kleenex. OSHA finally came and made us all wear lead detector boxes on top of our Disney costumes, and within a few months, the old shooting galleries were closed.

  29. Everything I shoot is copper FMJ except for the 20 or so lead pellets I manually have to load in my air rifle every so often.
    Lead is absorbed through the skin, correct?
    Why no concern with air rifless?
    I usually just wipe the residue off on my pants. Then go eat some chicken wings.
    Do I care? Should I?

    • No, lead is not absorbed through the skin. it is too large of a molecule. It enters your body via inhalation or ingestion.

  30. NO. Washed car and heavy equipment parts in leaded gas, drank water for decades from solid lead pipes bringing water to the house, shoot a lot, melt reclaimed lead. I don’t worry about it.

  31. Got my curiosity going. I looked up Winchester’s SDS sheet on standard center fire primers. There are two lead compounds, plus barium nitrate and antimony sulfide. Apparently, the lead compounds are non-toxic but the last two are toxic. Antimony is another heavy metal.

    Exposure can come from skin contact, ingestion, and inhalation; with the last being the only common route. So the concern about indoor ranges might be valid. I was at one once where the fans were off for some time and it did get smoky and smelly. I should have left or complained, but did neither.

    I am guessing the primer is the main threat. Unless you hunt and eat a lot of fowl.

  32. If it’s possible to get lead poisoning from lead paint, which contains very little compared to ammo, it’s not unreasonable to take precautions. I never researched it that deeply, but I do buy copper-jacketed rounds and practice outdoors. A friend of mine has lead throughout his body and had to do chelation therapy from using lead gasoline years ago to wash parts in. So the possibility of it being absorbed transdermally is very possible. I really do need to use some better kind of hand cleaner or wipes. I have to wonder what the naysayers are thinking by discounting the dangers when it’s common knowledge, the dangers of lead, and the precautions are not very hard to do. Why take a chance with your health?

    • You can’t absorb lead powder/metal transdermally UNLESS it is in a solvent that can penetrate the skin. Lead on its own is too large to penetrate the barrier and it would need assistance in the form of a solvent.

  33. I’m more worried about lead fishing weights than I am about lead dust from shooting, and that is not at all.

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