Beware lead poisoning

To the Journal editor:

The recent killings of George Floyd in custody of Minneapolis police, EMT, Breonna Taylor by police in Louisville and jogger Ahmaud Arbery by private citizen vigilantes in Georgia, should concern everyone.

Bigotry and racism are direct threats to public health and wellbeing and cannot be tolerated. This seems to be a common thread in all these above cases.

Another common thread that is not getting much attention is that in all of these instances the perpetrators of the killings were most likely either shooting guns at firing ranges to maintain mandatory certifications and skills for their work in the case of the police or for recreation in the case of the civilian vigilantes.

It has been well documented that firing ranges can be particularly toxic environments for lead exposure. Both indoor and outdoor firing ranges resulted in blood lead levels in shooters on average up to 30 to 35 times background blood lead levels for the non-shooting general population (Laidlaw, 2017). It’s known that “low level” lead toxicity causes decreased executive function of the brain.

Police, who appropriately must frequent firing ranges as part of their job are at especially high risk for lead poisoning at levels that could cause problems with judgment, aggression, and impulse control. Ditto for recreational shooters. Poor or no lead mitigation protocols exist in many firing ranges.

Lead exposure at firing ranges results not only from lead dust from the projectile, but also from lead vapor in lead primer from each round. Lead dust contaminating the soil or floor where the shooter at the range stands, contaminates skin and clothing creating a “take home lead” situation and ongoing toxic exposure.

Lead vapor is immediately breathed in through the lungs, into the blood stream and brain. Once lead enters the body, it is eliminated very slowly over decades, and thus has the effect of building up a toxic body burden with every round of lead based ammo fired. Only 100% lead free ammo, now available, should be allowed at all ranges.

This is not to exonerate inappropriate behavior by either the police or citizen vigilantes and I know of no direct evidence of blood lead levels in any of the above perpetrators.

I am connecting the dots of known scientific evidence concerning risky environments for lead exposure, likely exposure to these environments by all those involved, and the known effects of lead toxicity to interfere with normal brain function.

Scott Emerson, MD

Chocolay Township


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