Lead is classified by the EPA as a highly toxic heavy metal with no useful! or necessary biological function in the body. When lead is ingested or inhaled, it is absorbed into the bloodstream, and once taken into the body, is very difficult to remove. It can be a very serious health hazard, and persons working around and with firearms need to be keenly aware of that hazard. Gun club members and visitors need to minimize their exposure to lead.
Approximately six percent of ingested or inhaled lead is deposited in the blood and soft tissues. The remaining 94 percent is deposited in the bones. Because the body can mistake bad for calcium, it presumes that the lead needs to be stored. The body will break down and remove the lead over a period of time referred to as "half-life". This is the time the body needs to excrete one half of the total lead dosage. The blood borne lead has a half-life of approximately 30-40 days and is passed off through urine, sweat, hair and nails. Lead deposited in bone has a half-life of approximately 20 years. That is, one half of the dose from a single exposure would still be present in the body 20 years later.
Lead exposure from using firearms can originate from primer ignition, escape of gasses, muzzle blast and from the projectile's impact on the target. Shooters can inhale airborne particles, and pick up particles on hands from shooting and brass retrieval. If it reaches the mouth through eating or smoking, it is taken into the digestive system. Lead can also be absorbed through the pores of the skin and through the hair. When cleaning the firearm, solvents used to loosen lead and debris can dry an the skin and open pores, enhancing absorption.
Many symptoms of lead poisoning resemble those of various diseases, complicating diagnosis. Individuals often experience abdominal pain, fatigue, nausea, mood changes, headaches, constipation, irritability and depression, increased levels can cause muscle pain and weakness, convulsions, anaemia, impotence and weight loss.
Lead levels in the blood are measured in micrograms per decilitre of blood, written as ug/100dL. The OSHA standards state that median levels for adults should be about 15 ug/100dL. Levels of 40 ug/100dL cause OSI1A to recommend removal from the workplace.
Indoor ranges should encourage use of lead-free ammunition and should monitor and decontaminate regularly.
The best safety precaution is to do everything possible to minimize exposure, and plan regular blood testing based on frequency and amount of exposure for range personnel and those who shoot frequently.