Gun discussion should include lead exposure

To the Journal editor:

Something missing in the discussion of guns, gun violence, the right to bear arms and the standard NRA position that “guns and ammo don’t harm people,” is the growing documentation that shooting a gun is indeed exposing the shooter and their family to harmful levels of toxic lead dust and vapor.

A comprehensive review of all scientific publications between 1976 and 2016 (36 studies) addressing lead exposure at firing ranges (Laidlaw, 2017) revealed that even those who shot their guns infrequently for target practice had five times the measured blood lead levels as the non-shooting general population. The more rounds fired and the larger caliber the bullet the higher the blood lead levels were, up to over 50 times that of the general population. The use of copper jacketed bullets did not appear to significantly decrease the lead exposure. With every shot, lead vapor exits into the air as the bullet casing snaps out of the ejection port and a fine lead dust from the barrel, both form a cloud enveloping the shooter’s head. The lead is then absorbed with 100 percent efficiency through the lung. Fine and coarse particulates from both the round’s primer and bullet dust also attach to the shooter’s hands, clothing and shoes providing a secondary source of exposure for the shooter and their family at home. Lead dust at outdoor firing ranges does not biodegrade like hydrocarbon contamination and can accumulate to contaminate groundwater, nearby surface water and adjacent properties. The truth is that firing ranges can be particularly toxic environments.

There is absolutely no safe level of lead in the body. The background blood level in the U.S. adult population in 2010 was 1.2 mcg/dl. The current CDC threshold level for health concern is 5 mcg/dl. Most lead experts in medical toxicology feel that the CDC threshold is still much too high. We are learning that even lead levels at the current CDC threshold for concern can cause a significant decrease in IQ scores, memory and concentration problems, attention deficit, and violent behavior tendencies especially in children and adolescents. In adults, levels of 10 micrograms, frequently found in the shooters, have been associated with “early Alzheimer’s,” psychiatric effects, hypertension, heart arrhythmias and decreased kidney function.

Law enforcement and all those who enjoy recreational shooting deserve a safe place for training and their sport. They need to demand non-toxic gun ranges and ammunition.

SCOTT EMERSON, MD, Chocolay Township