The use of a gun at a shooting range exposes individuals to potential health risks associated with residue containing lead, placing women and children at higher risk of experiencing side effects, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published this month in the journal Environmental Health, researchers from Australia and the U.S. warn that when guns are fired, lead is released in the fumes, bullet fragments and bullets themselves, exposing users to lead and its toxic side effects.
Because a bullet is fired from a gun at high pressure, it causes lead to be released in multiple ways. Gun users can inhale the lead vapors, lead can stick to their hands and clothing and can be ingested.
Researchers reviewed data from 36 studies which included blood lead level measurements from shooters at firing ranges.
More than 30 studies showed blood lead levels among shooting range gun users to be higher than 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood, 18 studies reported blood lead levels among shooters greater than 20 mg/dL, 17 studies revealed blood levels greater than 30 mg/dL, and 15 studies showed blood lead levels greater than 40 mg/dL.
The study indicates that women and children are especially at risk. In addition to direct exposure at a firing range, women and children may also be exposed to lead when other shooters come home with particles on their skin and clothing. However, women and children do not receive the same health protections as occupational users of firing ranges.
A study published last year warned there is no safe level of lead exposure for children. While many regulatory agencies limit lead exposure in adults to 5 mg/dL, exposures to children at that level can cause harm, affecting IQ levels and causing disability.
Lead poisoning for children is already known to increase the risk of nervous system injury, brain damage, seizures or convulsions, growth or mental retardation, coma and even death.
According to a report issued earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are considering a reduction in the “level of concern” for lead in children’s blood. It is currently set at 5 mg/dL, but the CDC may reduce it to 3.5 mg/dL.
Lead is considered a toxic substance with serious long-term health effects. While much attention has been placed on lead in drinking water, little has focused on lead exposure from shooting guns at firing ranges. These activities, while often done for recreation, are a necessity for many professions, including police officers, military, and security personnel.
Estimates indicate more than 18,000 gun ranges exist in the United States. More than 1 million law enforcement officers use firing ranges and 20 million U.S. citizens shoot recreationally.
Blood lead levels are linked to the aerosol discharged from a gun, the number of bullets discharged and the caliber of weapon fired. Shooting at gun ranges results in elevated blood lead levels, putting shooters at higher risk.
Researchers said certain preventions can help reduce lead exposure. These include changing clothing after shooting, banning smoking and eating at firing ranges to prevent the ingestion of dust containing lead, improving ventilation systems at indoor ranges and developing airflow systems at outdoor ranges. Ranges can also eliminate lead bullets and transition to copper bullets, as well as using lead-free primers.