Shooting Hygiene: How To Deal With Lead Exposure

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.

Have any other tips?

Chime in below with your tips for helping to reduce lead exposure.

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