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Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP President
December 12, 2018
There are an estimated 16,000 to 18,000 indoor firing ranges in the United States. Of course, such gun ranges are a necessity for security personnel, police and the military but they are becoming increasingly more popular among the general public for personal security and recreation.
It has been recognized, at least for several decades, that shooters are at risk for lead poisoning—now there are more and more young shooters joining the ranks—the younger you are the greater the risk of lead exposure affecting your health.
Maybe the most vulnerable population at risk for detrimental effects of lead exposure are those who are under the age of six. It has been suggested that exposure to lead the size of a dime can reduce a child’s I.Q. by 10 points! Maybe we haven’t reached the time when children under six are using indoor ranges but more and more of their young parents, especially young mothers and older siblings are joining gun clubs and learning how to use firearms increasing the possibility of exposure to the very young.
Numerous published studies has shown elevated blood levels of shooters that are 2, 4, 8 times above the recommended blood lead level of 5 ug/dl of whole blood.
What’s more only the latest indoor ranges have effective ventilation systems that trap the lead dust before it is exhausted out of the building onto the roof or ground to be washed away by wind and rain throughout the area. (Some ranges have outdoor playgrounds to occupy children while their guardians are using the firing range!) More lead poisoning potential.
Lead poisoning potential extends beyond the shooters who may spend an hour or two at the range where the range officers must be there 8 hours or more per day. What about gun enthusiasts who cast their own bullets and load them? Another lead exposure situation.
What about those who eat and smoke at the firing range? Over time these actions are being banned—fortunately.
You may think these exposure potentials to lead dust and the risk of lead poisoning only affects a small population. Clearly this is wrong. In the U.S., there are approximately 20 million citizens who use firing ranges for leisure activity and over 1 million law enforcement officers who regularly train at indoor ranges.
Remember that it is not just the bullets that are lead but the primers as well. In fact, the discharge from the primer is likely the most significant amount of lead released into the shooter’s breathing zone.
Although lead is a metal, it is thought that it is unlikely that it will get into water. However, us wacky scientists know that metals are dissolved into water that is acidic, of which most surface waters are at least slightly acidic in the U.S. and throughout the world—as a matter of fact.
Cleaning up a lead contaminated firing range is a daunting task. To reach the U.S. Army/Air Force National Guard recommended level of 200 ug/ft2 (200 micrograms lead per square foot of surface area) is very difficult—sometimes practically impossible—requiring encapsulation as the only alternative—or demolition—of course.
There is much more to the health risks to shooters, range personnel, building occupants, families, and young children than is discussed here. Future articles will talk more about these health impacts to everyone involved with indoor firing ranges.
Beauchamp, C., Page, E., Alarcon, W.A., et. al., “Indoor Firing Ranges and Elevated BLL’s,” MMWR Morb Mortal Weekly, 2014: 63: 347-51.
Ochsmann, E., Goen, T., Schaller, K.H., et. al., “Lead-Still A Health Threat in Marksman,” International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 2009: 212: 557-61.
National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), “Target Shooting in America,” 2013.
Chen, M., Daroub, S.H., Wha, L.Q., et. al., “Characterization of Lead in Soils of a Rifle/Pistol Shooting Range in Central Florida USA,” Soil Sediment Criteria, 2002: 11: 1-7.
Dept. of Army/Air Force National Guard, “Guidelines and Procedures for Rehabilitation and Conversion of Indoor Firing Ranges,” NG Pam, 420-15, 3 Nov. 2006.
Laidlaw, M.A., Filippelli, G., Mielke, H., Gilson, B., Ball, A.S., “Lead Exposure at Firing Ranges-A Review,” Environ. Health, 2017, April 4: 16 (1):34.
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