Beretta Blog

Lead Poisoning Symptoms and Strategies to Minimize Contamination

Posted by Sara Ahrens

on Nov 7, 2013 7:30:00 AM


Shooters are at great risk for lead poisoning, yet many shooters either minimize, or are unaware of the risks associated with their exposure. The physical symptoms of lead poisoning, which act as a warning, are often overlooked because they mimic other, more common ailments. Additionally, these symptoms surface over time, masking a proper diagnosis.  If a shooter experiences any of the following symptoms listed, they should consider lead poisoning as a potential cause and seek testing and treatment.  

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

Common symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Abdominal Pain

  • Nausea

  • Headaches

  • Subtle Mood Changes

  • Fatigue

  • Constipation

  • Irritability, and

  • Depression

Symptoms of dangerous and cumulative lead levels are a bit easier to identify. Unfortunately, once these symptoms present, the situation is already critical and requires immediate medical intervention. Symptoms of critically elevated lead levels include:

  • Muscle Pain

  • Muscle Weakness

  • Weight Loss

  • Impotence and Sterility

  • Convulsions

  • Anemia, and

  • Renal Failure

When shooters, male or female, opt to ignore precautions on and off the range, they consider this a personal choice, which only affects them. The truth is, failing to take precautions and follow good hygiene practices affects their loved ones as well. For women, high lead levels not only impact their health, but also their reproductive systems… ergo endangering potential offspring. Women with high lead levels who become pregnant may face miscarriages or birth defects. During pregnancy, women are susceptible to rapid absorption of lead and calcium from the blood into the bone as a result of hormonal changes. Lead passes without obstruction from the placenta to the fetus. For men, high lead levels contribute to infertility, loss of sex drive, and can actually structurally alter sperm. Those structural changes may result in birth defects in their future offspring.  

DSC 0172Whether lead is transferred to children through gestation or direct contamination after birth, children are much more vulnerable to lead toxicity than adults. Exposure can cause irreversible damage to a child’s brain and nervous system. Many times children are not tested for lead poisoning since their symptoms mirror many other childhood diseases. Symptoms in children include:

  • Slow Learning

  • Mild Retardation in Development

  • Hypertension

  • Mental Drifts

  • Behavioral Problems

Best Practices for Minimizing Exposure

There are a number of ways to minimize lead exposure. These measures take the form of good hygiene and sound range practices. Most shooting ranges incorporate many of these ‘best practices’ regarding the expected range behavior… but beyond the placement of signs, there is little done in the way of enforcing many of these recommendations.  

Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Don'’t Eat on the Range – Exposure occurs from ingestion of lead particles, which are both airborne and transferred from hands, face, lips, and range surfaces.

  • Don’'t Smoke on the Range – Exposure occurs from inhalation of airborne lead particles (which is accelerated into the bloodstream during smoking) and ingestion of particles that are transferred from hands.

  • Don’'t Collect Fired Brass in Baseball Caps – Lead that is transferred to the cap, is transferred to the shooter’s scalp when they place it back on their head. Lead is than absorbed into the pores. Collect brass using a box or bucket

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  • Don't Sweep the Range with a Dry Broom – Sweeping with a dry broom makes lead airborne, reintroducing the particles to the shooters on the line. Instead, use a wet broom, a HEPA Vacuum, or brass catcher to alleviate this exposure.

    Sweeping Range

  • Do Select Ammunition to Minimize Exposure – Choosing ammunition can help minimize exposure. Non-jacketed ammunition will produce the most airborne lead particles, whereas jacketed will produce the least. Lead is also present in primers, and there are primers that are lead-free.

  • Do Wash Thoroughly Before Leaving the Range – Airborne lead particles land on your face, hands, and arms. Before heading home, wash these exposed body parts with cold water and soap first, before changing to warm water and soap. Cold water must be used first because it closes the pores, therefore minimizing absorption into the skin.

    Hand Washing Instructions

  • Do Be Aware of Contamination of Hair and Clothing Before Entering Your Car or Home – Airborne lead particles land on your clothing, hair, and on your shoes. Shoes also pick up lead particles when you walk on a range. Lead particles can then be deposited through cross-contamination in vehicles, on floors, carpets and furniture. There are several ways to minimize exposure, such as:

    • Wear over clothes on the range

    • Wear shoe covers on range and/or in your car

    • Change clothes and remove shoes before entering your car or home

    • Wash lead-exposed clothing separate from the family’s laundry

  • Do Avoid Physical Contact with Family Members Until Complete Decontamination Occurs – Casual contact will transfer lead to loved ones. Launder range clothing before showering to avoid recontamination. SHOWER using cool water and wash hair with shampoo.

Personal hygiene minimizes exposure to lead. It is the responsibility of all shooters. Even though the negative affects of lead exposure aren’t obvious, that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Shooters have a choice to make in regards to adhering to these practices. Their choices should be based on the level of exposure to which they are willing to subject their loved ones, not on the personal risks they are willing to accept.

Topics: Firearms Safety, Other