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Avoiding Lead Exposure- A Warning for Gun Owners

lead-contamination-while-shooting

I admit I took zero hygiene safety precautions during my time in the Marine Corps.

I can't even estimate how many pounds of spent brass casings I carried in my cover (hat for you non-Marines) while policing brass on the range.

Not only that. After shooting and cleaning guns, I never washed my hands before eating food. And I never thought about it or was told otherwise.

Shooting guns:

Lead styphnate and other heavy metals are components found in ammunition. The cloud of smoke that envelops us when we shoot contains lead and other metals.

It gets on our hands, arms, and face. We breathe it in, and it stays on our clothing. It coats our handguns and covers the ground. While mostly invisible, it is far from harmless.

We know when we get certain levels of lead in our bodies, it isn't good. If you are older than 40 years old, the chances are good that you grew up playing with toys or lived in homes painted with lead paint. High levels of lead cause all kinds of health and developmental problems.

 

Heavy metal particles, including lead, are microscopic and easily absorbed through our skin's pores. We can also breathe the particles in and contaminate ourselves. Shooting outdoors reduces this lead exposure method, which is the major reason indoor ranges must have exceptional ventilation to be safe.

Ammunition Handling:

Most bullets are lead. The lead may or may not have a metal jacket covering. This type of ammunition is generally safer to handle; however, use extra precautions when using un-jacketed ammunition, where the lead projectile is completely exposed.

Picking Up Brass:

Collecting spent casings is another area where you can unintentionally expose yourself to lead and other unwanted heavy metals. For example, I have seen children collecting brass alongside their parents after a day at the range. This practice is especially concerning because children are known to stick their hands in their mouths.

The dirt is likely okay. Lead particles are not.

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Cleaning Your Guns:

Cleaning your handgun exposes your hands to not only the fine coating of lead and heavy metal particles but the sometimes corrosive and unhealthy cleaning solvents.

Tips to limit lead exposure:

Shooting your firearm does not expose you to massive amounts of lead; however, we should avoid any amount if possible.

  • Children and expectant mothers should safeguard against lead exposure. I've spoken with doctors about the safety of expectant mothers while shooting. Their advice was that in addition to hand washing, expectant mothers who want to shoot should wear gloves and shoot outdoors.
  • Washing with soap alone won't remove the lead. This is primarily because the lead and heavy metal particles bond to the skin differently from plain old dirt. However, some products can break the bond and help remove lead and other heavy metals that we don't want in our bodies. One product I have and use is called LeadOff from Hygenall. I like the wipes for use at the range. Remember you also need to wash your hands, forearms, and face.
  • Change clothing and wash before hugging or playing with your children.
  • Consider washing your clothing separately, not mixing them with the rest of the family's clothing.
  • Before you eat food, smoke cigarettes (but don't smoke cigarettes), ensure you use a product like Leadoff, and thoroughly wash your hands.
  • It also can't hurt to wear latex gloves while cleaning your guns to keep the lead particles and cleaning solvents off your skin.
leadoff wipes

I like these wipes from Hygenall. The product also comes in a foaming soap and spray.

Don't freak out —

I recommend that you ask your doctor to check the lead levels in your body as part of your annual physical. In addition, it would be wise to have the levels of everyone in the family tested during their regular checkup.

Now you have another way to stay safe on the range. Let's be sure the lead is detrimental to the bad guys, not us.

*This post has been republished and was initially published in December 2016*

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11 Responses to Avoiding Lead Exposure- A Warning for Gun Owners

  1. Joseph December 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    Very good article.

    • Matthew Maruster December 30, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      Joseph, thank you so very much! Stay safe and God bless.

  2. Scott December 29, 2016 at 10:03 pm #

    Great article!
    Here is another reason I live a hour+ from the outdoor range, so I always carry a pack of wet wipes with us, I work on military bases and when you go thru security they inspect your vehicle and they swab the steering wheel if they find gun powder, they will pull you out of line and it takes a long time to strip the vehicle to make sure there are no weapons in your car, with security with guns drawn. It is not fun and your late for work!

    • Matthew Maruster December 30, 2016 at 8:14 am #

      Hi Scott, glad you liked the article! And great point! I didn’t even think about military bases and traveling on airplanes. gun shot residue on your hands is a surefire way to end up in secondary inspection with TSA (ask me how I know) 🙂 thanks for the great response and point of view!

  3. Joe Shahoud August 12, 2020 at 3:37 pm #

    Another awesome article, Matthew.

    • Jim August 16, 2020 at 10:00 am #

      Good article, it’s important to limit our exposure to toxic substances at all opportunities. Even more so these days as we become unavoidably exposed in ways that weren’t as common years ago.

      One nitpick if I may, there is no explosion during normal shooting, unless there is an obstruction in the barrel or some other malfunction that would cause a catastrophic release of pressure in a unintended direction. Just rapid combustion creating a calculated pressure to propel the projectile down barrel.

      I’m quite sure you understand this, but some readers may not.

  4. Lance Boepple August 12, 2020 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks for the info, Marine. I too never gave hygiene a second thought in the Corps. For me, it was Viet Nam, but the hazards were the same. Really appreciate the heads up on this. Best to you. Semper Fi!

  5. Joshua Stafford August 14, 2020 at 7:19 pm #

    Knowledge makes for a better safer gun owner. Thank you for sharing me knowledge, though I heard about it a long time back from a certain awesome podcast.

  6. Chris Englert August 18, 2020 at 8:50 pm #

    I have been shooting for over half a century and casting bullets for the same time frame. My blood work is perfect. Not to say there is no danger here, but the risk is being over blown.

  7. Sammy Onyango August 18, 2020 at 10:27 pm #

    Excellent Article, apart from natural hygiene brought to our attention by this sarscov2.. this is the next eye opener…
    Great stuff

  8. Fred Garvin January 6, 2021 at 7:16 pm #

    Important to use cold water when washing your hands after shooting in order to keep your pores from opening. Cuts down on absorption.

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