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By Brandon via

Ingesting lead is a serious thing and can cause numerous problems for people with constant exposure. As you’re likely aware, you come into contact with lead during every trip to the range. You even come into contact with it each time you handle your firearm, especially if it hasn’t yet been cleaned after a visit to the range. The same goes for handling ammunition, and so on. Lead is present in most types of ammunition, including the primer and bullet. Each time you fire a round, lead is vaporized into the air and can be inhaled or ingested through the mouth. Furthermore, lead is sent down range and is then embedded in whatever surface the bullet encounters . . .

What are some symptoms caused by lead exposure?

  • Neurological Effects
    • Peripheral neuropathy
    • Fatigue / Irritability
    • Impaired concentration
    • Hearing loss
    • Wrist / Foot drop
    • Seizures
    • Encephalopathy
  • Gastrointestinal Effects
    • Nausea
    • Dyspepsia
    • Constipation
    • Colic
    • Lead line on gingival tissue
  • Reproductive Effects
    • Miscarriages/Stillbirths
    • Reduced sperm count & motility
    • Abnormal sperm
  • Heme Synthesis
    • Anemia
    • Erythrocyte protoporphyrin elevation
  • Renal Effects
    • Chronic nephropathy with proximal tubular damage
    • Hypertension
  • Other
    • Arthralgia
    • Myalgia

Ways to reduce exposure to lead:

  • Use lead-free ammunition
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while at the range
  • Wear gloves while shooting
  • Have dedicated ‘range clothing’ to wear for each trip
  • Always wash your hands after shooting
  • Take a shower immediately after using the range
  • Wash your clothes immediately after using the range

I can’t tell you how many times I see people eating and drinking at the range. One route for lead to enter your body is through your mouth. If you’re eating and/or drinking, this opens you up to even more lead exposure.

Remember that the range, especially an indoor range, can have lead particles on numerous surfaces. Also when you shoot, lead is sent in all directions and can easily get on yourself and your clothing.

When choosing an indoor range, check to see how the ventilation system works. If it’s a good system, it will remove a lot of the harmful lead that is floating around in the air. If it’s a rather poor setup however, it may be a good idea to ‘shop around’ for another range.

Remember: Lead accumulates in the body, and all of it does not leave once it’s there. If you’re an avid shooter, it’s a good idea to have your doctor check your lead levels with a simple blood test. It’s something that you’ll want to stay on top of to make sure it’s kept in check, as high lead levels in your system can cause many problems down the road.

Be especially mindful when bringing children to the range. The way that a child’s body handles lead is different than that of an adult’s.

From the CDC regarding lead exposure:

Shortly after lead gets into your body, it travels in the blood to the “soft tissues” and organs (such as the liver, kidneys, lungs, brain, spleen, muscles, and heart). After several weeks, most of the lead moves into your bones and teeth. In adults, about 94% of the total amount of lead in the body is contained in the bones and teeth. About 73% of the lead in children’s bodies is stored in their bones. Some of the lead can stay in your bones for decades; however, some lead can leave your bones and reenter your blood and organs under certain circumstances (e.g., during pregnancy and periods of breast feeding, after a bone is broken, and during advancing age).

Your body does not change lead into any other form. Once it is taken in and distributed to your organs, the lead that is not stored in your bones leaves your body in your urine or your feces. About 99% of the amount of lead taken into the body of an adult will leave in the waste within a couple of weeks, but only about 32% of the lead taken into the body of a child will leave in the waste. Under conditions of continued exposure, not all of the lead that enters the body will be eliminated, and this may result in accumulation of lead in body tissues, especially bone.

Better safe than sorry. Following a few simple steps can help limit your exposure to lead, and they’re pretty easy to do. After all, health is #1 and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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    • I inject lead to keep my pencil hard.
      Ok, sorry, that was weird. Seriously, my favorite indoor range is so busy on weekends there is often a 45 minute wait, and the hanging smoke in the lanes is a sign the fan/air conditioning filters just aren’t keeping up. So, despite their awareness- signs in bathrooms to wash hands after shooting for lead, and generally good practices otherwise, I dont go on the weekends, or bring my kids there anymore, as an abundance of caution.

    • You should try gold. It’s better than lead at blocking radiation and non-toxic.
      Also, your large intestine could probably use a little bling.

    • Blood tests aren’t always that reliable in the sense that you MAY test high and then later, you may test low…but that means that it’s just being absorbed into your system. Only way to get it out is by chelation.

      Wearing a mask when at the range, is a good idea too.

      People don’t take this seriously enough. Regular vitamins will not get rid of it.

  1. Wash your hands with cold water. Cold water keeps pores closed; warm water opens them and makes it easier for lead particles to migrate inward.

    Also consider using a heavy-metal removal soap like D-Lead or Hygenall LeadOff.

    • Tepid water actually, you want your pores to stay put and neither close on existing lead or open up to allow in more lead. At least that’s assuming my training on washing off Uranium is valid for washing off lead.

    • And don’t use your mouth to hold shooting gear. I’ve seen many shooters use their mouths as a third hand to shuffle things around (including a pistol magazine). Even something seemingly innocuous, like a hat or jacket, could be coated in a fine layer of lead and other toxins, if you shoot with it regularly.
      And glasses. People love sticking the earpiece for their glasses in their mouths. Sweat, grime, and lead: yummy!

  2. If you’re worried about lead exposure, TMJ projectiles are an excellent alternative for practice compared to FMJs.

    • Or some type of coating on cast lead boolits. Recently I started powdercoating my .44 magnum pills using the shake and bake method.
      It significantly reduces smoke, leaves my barrel shiny and clean with no leading. It also eliminates sticky lubricants, as well as lead exposure while reloading and ammo handling.
      And the colorful cartridges look cool.

  3. no studies to back this up or lead leakibg into water tables.

    gloves are extreme… but yes the other steps are a must. much less the lead but everything else you get from gunpower.

    FYI bullets do NOT deposit lead on you or asperated when firing if they are copper jacketed rounds. only low grade ammo and exposed lead tounds even come close. to date no one has gotten lead poisoning from firearms other then direct injection lol being shot.

    Zero recorded… lets say 99.99% of range officers, trainers, military, and police have ever gotten lead poisoning.

    making your own lead rounds… sure if your lazy and dont follow basic guidelines.

    this was settled with the fight over Green Ammo and our BOY King shutting down lead factories.

    have clothes for shooting, clean your weapons, and your body asap and there is Zero chance of lead poisoning.

    • I was buying it until that last part, and then you lost all credibility. The “shut down” was not “ordered” by the EPA or Obama, and it had nothing to do with ammunition, green or otherwise. The factory processing raw lead ore was dumping tens of thousands of tons of lead into the atmosphere through its smokestacks, and was ordered by the EPA to install scrubbers to reduce or eliminate these toxic emissions. The company decided it was not cost effective to comply, so it shut down the facility. [Now all raw processing is done in China, a country that does not seem to care how much pollution its companies produce, as witnessed, in small part, by the toxic smog in its capitol.] This shut down has had no effect on the availability of ammunition, the vast majority of which is made with recycled lead.

      • you missed that point on the lead factory, it had nothing to do with this topic for it being shut down. but the Administration used it as a talking point to promote Green Ammo and Gun Control by jacking up pricing sense their legislation failef.

        the Point about factory was that The BOY is forcing change through shutting down resources and trying to force Green ammo. do i need to find the youtube link of him and others claiming lead ammo was poisoning water and that shutting down the factory will help the Environment.

        we know it was shutdown for many other reasons. duh we know it was NOT just because of ammo. simply put this administration wants all manufacturing outside the USA and all workers be trained for “service” jobs. they have done the same with steel and other metals. Clinton and the BOY have sold off these factories and turned over resources to foreign companies as collateral for debt and other Trade deals.

        in the end we cant build anything, even arm our soldiers without imports controlled by our enemies.

      • first you said it was not the EPA, then you explain they did not upgrade to the NEW EPA standards and was Shut Down. who do you think Shut them down!? the tooth fairy? no the EPA did. this Administration passed tougher standards that they knew would put these places out of business.

        yes we use recycled lead. most lead is used by Batteries and the supply if it is not replaced will shrink. as of this last closing we dont refine lead in the USA anymore. it has to be imported now.

        so yes it absolutely related when they used lead Ammo as an excuse for the actions.

      • The Doe Run Smelter in Herculaneum, MO was shut down not so much for the lead emissions as for the sulfur emissions. Doe Run was the last “primary” smelter in the US, meaning that the smelting was done on raw ore. The are still numerous domestic secondary smelters and recycling facilities. It would have cost the company upwards of $100M to install the necessary scrubbers and related pollution abatement equipment to comply with EPA regulations. The company couldn’t cut that kind of check.

        The primary lead ore is the mineral galena, chemical formula PbS, though that mineral is often found with varying levels of Cu, Ag, Zn, Cd, Bi, Ar, Sb, Au and Cd. Sulfur comprises about 14% sulfur by weight, that make for a whole lot of sulfur emissions. I have a specimen that has ~15% Ag in it from the Castle Dome mine in Arizona.

        FYI from Wikipedia, though the data presented is a little out of date but it give a decent birds-eye picture; “Production and consumption of lead is increasing worldwide. Total annual production is about 8 million tonnes; about half is produced from recycled scrap. The top lead producing countries, as of 2008, are Australia, China, USA, Peru, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Morocco, South Africa and North Korea.[49] Australia, China and the United States account for more than half of primary production.[50] In 2010, 9.6 million tonnes of lead were produced, of which 4.1 million tonnes came from mining.”

      • Always seems ironic to me when a Communist country, like China, that theoretically is about a better life for the common man, does not take care of the environment. “Yes Comrade you will have a warm bed, food and shelter however you may not be able to breath the air without getting very sick. Sorry!. Would you like the local Commissar to drive his limo down here and talk to you about that?”

    • actually a lot of jacketed rounds have the lead core exposed at the base- so the powder does wind up vaporizing lead.

  4. I’m guessing it’s pretty rare for shooters to see elevated levels of lead in their blood, other than those who frequent indoor ranges. If anyone has statistical data to refute that assumption, feel free to share.

    Lots of stuff in this world can harm us if the dosage is high enough. Chemicals, radiation, noise, bacteria, Democrats… Quantifying the risk is where it gets tricky, and when it comes to the true risk lead exposure from shooting, reloading and gun handling, well, call me skeptical.

  5. I’ve had heavy metal poisoning before. Not fun. Not even close to fun. It makes you forget how to spell “fun”. And my bout with it was mild.

    The risks are very minimal when shooting, especially outdoors. Wash up, and don’t eat or drink.. or pick your nose, take a leak, check your prostate or become blood brothers with the RO. Unless everybody is using solid copper or TMJ, you using them isn’t going to make much difference on particles. You would have to lick the bottoms of the FMJs to make any difference.

  6. This is a bit on the fear-mongering side. Most of the issues related to lead exposure are the consequence of chronic exposure to soluble lead, not solid. Aerosolized lead can be an issue, but again its from chronic exposure and to large amounts that you need to worry about. Even the most enthusiastic firearms aficionados need not worry in the least. If you work in a smelter, are a lead removal specialist or live in the ventilation shafts of an indoor range, then you should probably take precautions.

    • Here is just one brief on aerosolized lead exposure at indoor ranges. There are many more, and yes, lead exposure can be a real problem.

      There’s another brief on lead exposure of the cleanup crew at indoor ranges. It seems like sweeping up lead dust is really bad. Unfortunately, at my indoor range they sweep up the expended cases all the time, and the shooters get to inhale a big whiff of whatever dust the broom sweeps up.

      The bottom line is that getting tested for lead exposure is so easy, there’s no reason not to do it. And the cost is often covered by insurance.

  7. oh yeah you have practically eat lead a lot to the above symptoms. like eating lead paint.

    most all gun powder n primers are lead free or near undetectable levels and have been for decades. in the 70s it might have been an issue to worry about if you shot thousands of rounds a month.

    today this might be an issue for people who shoot thousands of rounds of cheap ammo weekly, or have comprised immune systems.

    best is stay clean and avoid the uber Cheap like eastern block and OLD ammo like the $.20 a round 7.62x54mm stuff n Russian/imported Steel cassed ammo. they dont make them as clean or lead free ammo and are more corrosive. US made ammo is safe, dont need to go green unless you like it more. Zero exposure difference from FMJ ammo. if you reload, check your power and keep gun clean. the lead Bullet does NOT expose you to lead other than cleaning and loading. the blast forces the lead forward, the GSR is from the Powder/Primer not the Bullet, the Gun Shot Residue is what your inhaling. there is a tiny chance from a gas blowback system like in an AR15 if your using lead rounds without a Copper or other metal jacket.

    the alarmist come up with a lot of buzz words to scare people and most writers just repeat it without actual knowledge of the topic. no offense to the writer here, but you assume a lot and left out a lot more. yes yes my writing skills suck, i admit it.

    • You have to practically eat lead to get symptoms? Absolutely not true! I shot once a week for 10 months at an indoor range and started to develop serious GI issues, heart palpitations and short term memory loss. I went to the doctor and he was at a loss and I told him about my shooting hobby. He tested my blood lead levels and it was over 30! He told me to stop shooting completely for 1 year to allow the lead to leach out of my bones and out of my system. Around month 5 all my symptoms went away and my lead was down to 10. One year later it was at 2. I will never go back to an indoor range and I reload copper/tin bullets only (like sinterfire) and only use non-toxic primers. And I don’t go to any shooting ranges, indoor or outdoor, I shoot on private land. After 3 years of shooting and reloading lead free, my blood lead level is back to 0 and I’ve had no lead poisoning symptoms.

      On top of all that, I don’t worry about lead exposure that my two toddlers might have gotten. According to my doctor, any blood lead levels above 0 in a child causes serious nervous system and cognitive problems, for life! Just the dust on your clothes and hair from that range (even outdoor) that flake off onto carpet and flooring is enough to raise blood lead levels in a child.

  8. PS: I have no idea what the actual risk factor is- if someone has a link to statistical factors, that would be great.

    But I do know the doggone EPA forced the Pendleton Trap and Skeet Club to close one half of its ranges due to environmental issues with the lead shot, in the ground and water, presumeably.

    And of course, pushed a lead-free in all of California ban on us, and is trying for more in the whole US.
    The issue is not going away. Best we get smart on it.

    • I cited a couple of studies above. Use your google-fu and you’ll discover many others. The upshot is that, yes, lead exposure for shooters is a thing. But a simple blood test (I get one about every other year) will tell someone if it’s a thing he needs to worry about.

  9. Frequent competitors shooting all lead slugs are more at risk, but you can buy coated lead bullets that keep the base of the bullet away from the hot gas generated by the primer and burning powder. This is what I use with my subsonic 300 blackout loads 240 grains of coated lead works like a champ and even when reloading the slug is entirely encased so you do not get lead dust on your hands like reloading plain led slugs. Still a good idea to wash hands thoroughly after a reloading session.

  10. Sweeping spent casings also kicks up lead. It’s best to use squeegee type brooms or the back side of push brooms to do this, not the bristles.

  11. Will fully jacketed ammo bullets eliminate lead in the air? No. It will reduce it. The more people on the range using this ammo the greater the reduction. Many of the people that shoot a great deal also load their own. I am seeing more of them loading this type of bullet. The more of these rounds that are fired the whether by an increase in the number of shooters or the high round shooters the less exposure we all have.

    Having said that, it is not something I worry about.

  12. Every time I go to an indoor gun range I wear a 3M P100 that filters out lead. People think I look like an idiot but some indoor ranges are filthy and after 2-3 visits the mask starts to take on very gray color. Of course it might not all be lead trapped in the mask but either way I would prefer not to be breathing all that garbage if I can avoid it. Some indoor ranges have excellent ventilation but we’ve all walked into ranges where the air looks like downtown Shenghai, for those occasions it’s nice to carry a P100 filter.

  13. Seriously? If you’re concerned about lead exposure, don’t shoot. On top of that, Mercury and aluminum are both at least as toxic and both are still used in varying amounts in nearly all vaccines, which are injected and bypass the skin, mucous membranes, and all other normal layers of protection.

  14. Use copper ammo…seriously I shoot (or did) at filthy ranges with awful ventilation. They are both ultra busy and cheap. Sorry but it can’t be good especially as I’m battling skin cancer which maybe came from chemical exposure and sun. They both have signs warning pregnant women…

  15. These symptoms:

    Fatigue / Irritability
    Impaired concentration
    Hearing loss

    Seem to describe most of the anti-gunners we deal with. Irritable beyond belief, can’t seem to concentrate on facts, and suffer acute hearing loss when presented with those facts. Could Shannon, Bloomberg, and their ilk be shooting up lead in their spare time?

  16. I shoot out in the woods and am away from home for 4 hours or more. If I follow the advice given here that is 4+ hours of no eating, no drinking, and no peeing which is a perfect formula for speeding and a road rage accident with risks far worse than taking care of myself without being dumb one way or another.

  17. I love to crack open an MRE next to my dirty rifle when at the range. Then drink from a green canteen I haven’t washed in a few years. So far, so good.

  18. There’s a survey (can’t find it now) that shows people who regularly eat game killed with lead bullets and shot pellets have no higher levels of lead than the rest of the population. I think the danger is exaggerated.

    BTW, getting tested for lead levels in the blood can’t be much use, as it’s difficult to eliminate it. All you can do is reduce your exposure.

  19. I spent a number of years early in my career soldering components to printed circuit boards, building wire harnesses, inspecting said boards and harnesses and operating wave soldering machines. This was back in the days when 63% Pb / 37% Sn rosin core solder was the industry standard for electronics. I practiced a reasonable level of industrial hygiene but nothing extreme. I’ve also been shooting for half a century, averaging probably 2000 – 4000 rounds/year. I’ve been tested for lead exposure 3 times; mid twenties, mid thirties and late forties. The highest reading that I’ve had was the first at < 2mcg/dL. Don't be a knucklehead and you should be just fine.

      • Touché! Good advice but I’m not bragging. I’m merely stating that lead exposure hasn’t been a problem for me and my exposure profile is probably much greater than that of the average person. The average person, so long as they weren’t eating paint chips like they were frosted flakes when they were a kid, will likely have even less of a problem.

  20. I’m willing to do most of these good practices for substantial shooting sessions, even wearing gloves, having dedicated range clothes, avoiding uncoated lead ammo, and generally scheduling myself to go home and take a shower and change clothing after going to the range and before eating. That will not always happen. Heck, if I’m camping and shooting there is no shower. Washing my hands will have to suffice. But not drinking water during a day at the range or using the restroom as suggested in the comments seems really unreasonable and uncomfortable, and the risk of lead exposure for those activities is probably healthier than not staying hydrated or using the toilet if you have to. What’s the big risk of opening a bottle and pouring water into my mouth or touching my nether regions, anyway? My mouth wouldn’t touch anything that isn’t covered by the water bottle top or cap and a shower will clean my entire body.

  21. I guess the folks I’ve gone shooting with back during college and since have been doing it right: we always had stuff to drink when out shooting, but beverages have never been allowed near the shooting line; generally they’re fifteen yards back on tailgates and hoods.

    Given that almost all the shooting I do is outdoors, I’ve never worried about fumes. Generally we’ve all been more concerned about staying hydrated; a couple of hours out in temperatures above 80F (sometimes well above) requires something to drink — and I don’t shoot with people dim enough to consider anything alcoholic to be a beverage when out in the sun.

    My biggest concern has always been handling lead-tipped rounds; it only took coming home with lead-tinted fingers to start wearing gloves while using up all those rounds and replacing them with shiny copper ones.

  22. From my experience at indoor ranges, I find that after the first 30 mins shooting, I begin to feel nausea, and after I leave after about an hour, I feel fatigued for several hours afterwards. I really think lead exposure should be taken more seriously by the gun community.


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