Study: Gun range lead exposure poses 'significant' health risk

Lead dust discharged from firearms at gun ranges may be posing a significant health risk for shooters, a new analysis concluded.

The review by the journal Environmental Health covering 36 studies conducted between 1975 and 2016 looked at ways gun range lead exposure effected patrons, employees and family members.

The analysis revealed that blood lead levels included in the studies exceeded the maximum safe level —  5 micrograms per deciliter — set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of the studies showed exposure to shooters as twice as high the safe limit and almost half showed exposure eight times higher than the safe limit.

From those results, the authors concluded that shooting ranges are a ‘significant’ health problem, as many adverse heath outcomes have been connected to high blood lead levels. To decrease the health risk, the study’s authors called for better ventilation systems at shooting ranges, banning smoking and eating at shooting ranges, and developed airflow systems for outdoor ranges. They also suggest changing clothes after shooting. And to eliminate lead dust risk completely, lead-free primers and lead-free bullets would have to be used, the authors said.

Using such reports, the Department of Defense has launched efforts to reduce lead exposure on military ranges, lowering its standard to 20 micrograms per deciliter. Yet, for those in the gun industry lead exposure remains a divisive issue, with some gun rights advocates questioning the validity of and motivations behind such studies, including National Shooting Sports Foundation Vice President Larry Keane.

“Well, that’s their opinion,” said Keane. “We believe there are efforts by others that want to diminish people’s participation in shooting sports or exercise their Second Amendment rights. They put out or advocate positions that are unsupported by the evidence.”

One of the authors of the analysis, Gabriel Filipelli, made it clear to the Indy Star that the analysis was not meant to take a stance on gun rights. “This is not an anti-gun paper,” he said. “It’s a pro lead-protection paper.”

Article updated at 10:45 am EST on May 13, 2017

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