Gun Safety: A Safety Reminder About Lead

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Safety and Training

While out on a girl’s weekend at my friend’s property, we decided to shoot some targets. One of my friends—not a regular shooter—had to be reminded to thoroughly wash her hands and arms before tending to the baby. Not too long ago, another similar incident occurred. After helping a girlfriend practice for her NRA instructor’s test, I searched for a sink at the range. Again, I had to remind someone to wash up before leaving. My own boss—a regular shooter—just the other day commented, “Oh, I never think about the lead!” However, lead exposure is a concern for shooters—especially for mothers. Adults absorb 20 percent of the lead they ingest, while children absorb 70 percent. You should take all precautions to limit your exposure to lead at the shooting range.

lead exposure is a concern for shooters—especially for mothers.

Lead exposure is a concern for shooters—especially for mothers.

Due to the lead in the primer and ammunition, the gases expelled from firing a gun contain lead. While at the gun range—whether indoor or outdoor—we inhale these gases. Lead particles and dust also settle on our fingers, hands, arms, hair, clothing, shoes and our face. In fact, the air around your face at the shooting range contains toxic levels of lead.

The amount of lead exposure shooters experience depends on several factors, including:

  • Ventilation of the range
  • Length of time spent shooting
  • Number of rounds shot
  • Type of ammunition used

For example, an uncovered outdoor range poses the least threat, while an indoor range with poor ventilation poses the most danger to lead exposure.

Always wash thoroughly after a range trip. Wash your hands, fingers, arms and face with cold water and soap. A good shooting range will have lead-removal soap such as LeadTech or Hygenall—both recommend by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Avoid using warm water, as it will open your pores, allowing for more lead exposure. Never eat, drink or smoke after shooting without washing up afterward.

Some people prefer to shower, including washing their hair, right after a visit to the shooting range. As an extra precaution, remove the clothes you wore to the range and wash them separately. I also know some people who have range-specific shoes they keep outside of the house. Lead can also stick to your purse and range bag. I keep my range bag in the trunk of my car at all times.

There are specific websites devoted to women shooters that advise against wearing liquid foundation to the range because “liquid foundation collects the lead gases and debris from shooting and the lead sticks to your face” causing breakouts and further exposure. All these same sites recommend a “mineral-based” makeup as opposed to liquid foundation, because the lead dust on the liquid foundation will cause breakouts. However, both “mineral-based” powder and liquid foundation contain the same ingredients. I have found no scientific evidence that proves that either is better than the other. Nor have I found any medical expert to say lead sticks to liquid foundation and should not be worn at the range.

However, if this advice makes you nervous, keep wet wipes or makeup remover pads in your range bag. That way, if you are short on time, on lunch break or aren’t going straight home after the gun range, you can quickly wipe your face down after leaving.

To cut down your exposure to lead:

  • Use lead-free ammunition
  • Shoot at an outdoor uncovered range
  • Change your clothes after shooting
  • Wear shooting gloves
  • Limit your range time when it is crowded
  • Always wash thoroughly with cold water and lead-out soap after shooting  and especially before touching your face

When I first start shooting, no one warned me about the exposure to lead and for those more experienced shooters, a reminder to wash after shooting never hurts.

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