Gun safety is undoubtedly the primary focus of all shooting activities, both on and off the range. However, one element of gun safety that can be easily overlooked is lead exposure and proper lead management. If ignored, prolonged exposure to lead from shooting, handling ammo and equipment, or training in poorly ventilated environments can lead to serious health consequences. A Girl & A Gun is committed to ensuring our members are well-educated on the best practices for staying healthy and safe.
Understanding the “why” behind recommended lead management practices is not only essential but highly motivating. Lead can be absorbed into the body in three ways: inhalation, ingestion, and absorption through the skin. Symptoms of lead poisoning include, but are not limited to, abdominal pain, headaches or joint pain, trouble concentrating or thinking, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, personality changes, and a metalic taste in the mouth. For expectant mothers, lead has been proven to cross the placental barrier and negatively impact developing fetuses and has been shown to increase the chances of osteoporosis in older women.
Need more certainty about your lead levels?
Many shooting sports businesses have their range employees’ lead levels routinely tested to ensure they stay safe and protect their health. Small amounts of lead in the blood, 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) or 0.48 micromoles per liter (µmol/L), are not considered dangerous in adults. However, a blood test resulting in a blood lead level of 5 µg/dL or 0.24 µmol/L or above is considered elevated, and a doctor would recommend a course of treatment. Should you have any concerns that lead exposure may be an issue, consult a doctor and request a lead-level evaluation.
PREVENTION IS THE BEST MEDICINE
No need to panic. When correctly managed, lead exposure risks are dramatically lowered, and shooters can safely spend a lifetime enjoying their favorite sport. Just as there are best practices for gun handling safety, there are best practices for shooter’s health safety. Here are some suggestions for managing and limiting your exposure to lead on and off the range:
Most indoor ranges are equipped with state-of-the-art ventilation systems that suction out and filter the gasses and particulates generated from firing the gun while replacing the air volume with fresh, clean air. Should the air in the range start to look hazy or foggy or smell of gunsmoke, alert a range staff member immediately. If you can see, smell or taste the air, it is a sign the system is not functioning correctly. The ventilation system may be immediately reset and the air cleared within minutes. If the problem persists, continuing to stay in that environment means continued exposure to the toxins and is not recommended for health reasons. Either select another venue or return once the problem has been resolved.
Air quality at outdoor ranges is not as great a concern as indoor venues regarding lead exposure. Complete open-air ranges provide the natural dissipation of potentially harmful vapors. Some outdoor ranges with partially enclosed shooting bays may require the addition of fans to keep the air flowing through the space. Similar to indoor ranges, if the air is stagnant, smokey, or has that distinct lingering smell, it may be time to flip on the fans or pack up and come back later.
The more significant concern at outdoor ranges is the exposure to lead from picking up spent brass after shooting activities have ceased. Make good use of the range equipment, shovels, brooms, brushes, and brass pickers to avoid a lot of handling. Wear gloves when no equipment is available, and brass needs to be picked up by hand. If a ballcap or other hat or garment was used for collection, be sure to wash that garment as soon as you get home!
STOP! Don’t eat that sandwich!
Lead exposure through ingestion does not imply shooters are chewing on bullets. The residue left on our skin from handling firearms, ammunition, and touching surfaces of the range, can be transferred onto our food and beverage bottles and thus consumed if not first washed away. Before snacking or hydrating, it is vital to cleanse your hands of lead. Most indoor ranges offer a hand washing station or restroom with heavy metal removing soap to wash the hands. Outdoor ranges without running water may not be so well outfitted, and it may be up to the participant to bring their own supplies. LeadOff wet wipes by Hygenall are convenient and effective for on-the-go lead removal.
For some shooters cleaning their guns is a tedious chore, while for others, it is a zen moment of meditation or gun nerdy glee. Either way, while cleaning your firearm, precautions should be taken specifically to minimize lead contamination to both yourself and your environment.
- Preparing your space is key! Setting up outside is optimal, but if that is not an option, select a well-ventilated room. Cleaning guns at the dining table may seem like a good idea; however, opt for a location away from living spaces or food preparation areas.
- Lining your work surface with a disposable and absorbent material like puppy pee pads prevent oils, debris, and residue from transferring onto your work surface and are easily thrown away.
- Wear disposable gloves and clear eye protection to keep those same lead-rich substances off your skin. If you are concerned about inhalation, a facemask is also an option.
- Isolating your cleaning supplies and solvents in a dedicated plastic tote and/or ziplock bag keeps those tools from smearing lead all over your range bag.
Personal Hygiene Practices
Since COVID struck in 2020 the nation finally caught on to what we shooters have been preaching for decades – wash your hands! But hand washing is just one facet of good shooting hygiene. Habits like cleansing our bodies, garments, and shoes are just as essential to keeping lead off us and out of our homes.
- Wash hands with heavy metal removing soaps as soon as possible after every range session.
- When on-site wash stations are unavailable, utilize lead remover wipes such as Hygenall LeadOff products.
- Remove shoes worn to the range before entering your home so as not to track lead residue all over your floors. (Consider those crawling infants, toddlers, and even pets who spend a LOT of time down there!)
- Wash, don’t re-wear, clothes that have been to the range. Wash these items separately from your other laundry.
- Shower and wash your hair after each range visit to remove any lead residue from your body.
Shooting sports are not the only source of lead exposure. We are exposed to lead and other toxins daily at our jobs, through our personal bathing and household cleaning products, and other hobbies and crafts. Being empowered with knowledge and having actionable tasks to mitigate the risks of lead exposure is a vital part of any shooter’s safety plan.
A Girl & A Gun has a fantastic collection of cleaning and lead removing products in our shop!
Check it out!