Lead Exposure Risks in Firing Ranges

An Overview for Range Owners and Range Managers

Following a series of many articles published in scholarly journals and a steadily growing number of accounts in the press, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and affiliated state agencies have been increasing their efforts aimed at identifying occupations where risks of lead exposure exist and toward reducing the exposures once identified. Lead exposure in firing ranges is one of the areas of risk that is receiving increased attention from those agencies.

In addition to the concerns every range owner or master has about the levels of lead exposure of range employees and shooters, range owners and masters must also now deal with occupational safety and health agencies that are increasingly resorting to immediately citing ranges that have lead levels in excess of regulatory standards. The occupational safety and health agencies are taking the view that range owners and managers should now be aware of the risks inherent in their operations. Given the growing concerns about the effects of lead exposure on adults and the regulatory agencies increasingly tough stance, it is more important than ever for ranges to ensure that they are in full compliance.


Effects of Overexposure to Lead

Lead, when ingested or inhaled in unsafe amounts, can cause numerous health problems. The most commonly sited of these are the neurological effects on children. However, the effects of overexposure to lead on adults are also quite serious and well documented. Some of the most important of these health effects are described below.


Lead Exposure Findings at Firing Ranges

The lead vapor created in firing a handgun has several principal sources: the action of hot propellant gases (reaching 2,000) against the lead base of the bullet, the friction of the bullet against the barrel and the combustion of lead in priming compounds. Numerous studies have shown that shooters, range workers and others in the shooting area at ranges frequently have elevated blood lead levels caused both by inhaling lead vapor and by inadequate personal hygiene prior to smoking and/or eating.

Several recent studies, focused on exposure in outdoor firing ranges, also have found -- to the surprise of some -- high lead exposure levels.


Possible Solutions

Although studies have demonstrated that improved ventilation systems and careful personal hygiene before smoking or eating can help reduce the risks of overexposure to lead, most research has suggested that the best means of solving the lead exposure problem is at its source through modified ammunition.

Every range, whether indoor or outdoor, should carefully evaluate the potential for unsafe lead exposure levels and should take steps to solve any potential sources of problems.


Prepared by Rainier Ballistics Corporation, Tacoma, Washington.
Additional copies of this summary as well as of the NRA's brochure titled Effects of exposure to Airborne Lead on Users of Indoor Firing Ranges Second Edition) are available from Rainier Ballistics by calling 800-638-8722.
October, 1992