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 By Mike Coviello (Tanner)
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Lead Poisoning from Shooting Guns

When shooting guns, the only way to get lead poisoning is to get shot. That's what people used to think. Today more is known about lead and the toxic effects it has on the human body. Does firing a gun make you more susceptible to lead poisoning? Will you breath in poisonous lead filled fumes in the air at the shooting range, absorb lead dust through your skin or ingest it by mouth?

Lead Test Kits at Amazon


Sources of Lead at the Shooting Range

  1. Compounds in the primers of cartridges (breathing, ingestion, absorption)

  2. Bullets (handling)

  3. Bullet vaporization and splintering as it passes through the barrel after being fired (breathing, ingestion, absorption)

  4. Vaporization of the base of the lead bullet (breathing, ingestion, absorption)

  5. Fragmentation of the bullet against the target and backstop (breathing, ingestion, absorption)

  6. Gun Powder/residue collects on the fingers and can be ingested during eating and smoking (breathing, ingestion, absorption)

  7. Picking up spent cases from the range floor (handling)


How Can Exposure to Lead be Minimized at the Shooting Range

  1. Better ventilation decreased the risk.

  2. Copper-covered (jacketed) bullets reduce the risk.

  3. When shooting outdoors avoid shooting on days when the wind is blowing toward you.

  4. Limit the time you shoot on a busy range to minimize exposure to second hand lead.

  5. Do not eat or smoke while shooting. Wash your hands after you shoot.

  6. Don't rub your eyes, touch your mouth at the shooting range.

  7. Change and wash your clothing immediately after shooting.

  8. If you use the restroom at the range, wash your hands first. Lead can be easily absorbed through body parts other than the hands.


Handling Ammunition

Loaded ammunition with jacketed bullets are not a concern. Ammunition with exposed lead bullets must be handled more cautiously. After handling you must wash your hands.


Gun Cleaning

The residue on the gun and in the bore may contain lead. When you use gun cleaning solvents you increase the risk of lead poisoning. If possible wear surgical gloves when cleaning your weapons. Wash your hands after each gun cleaning session.


Reloading Ammunition

Reloading of lead bullets has the same risk as handling lead ammo. Handling and cleaning spent cases is another source of lead. The dust from the tumbling media may contain high levels of lead. Tumbling should be done outdoors or with a vacuum. Also, the media used in the tumbler contains lead dust and should be handled with care.


This information is presented to inform the reader of the dangers of lead poisoning associated with shooting guns. It is not to be taken as a medical or safety advice regarding toxicity.




Dangers/Contamination Of Lead Poisoning At Outdoor Shooting Ranges

January 29, 2012
I live close to a shooting range and would like to know if it is possible that lead pellets in the ground and after many years of this activity can contaminate surrounding stream and rivers by run off. Has there ever been any scientific studies on this matter and were could i get more info? Thank you.

Response - Robert,

I don't know, but I would think there a lots of studies on that subject.

I just did a quick Google search and found the following.

Pollution at Outdoor Firing Ranges

Contamination poses worries at Kincaid Park

Contamination in Soil at Outdoor Firing Ranges

I'm sure there are a lot more. I would think the EPA would be a good place to start.

Note - I think the old outdoor shooting range close to where I live was closed due to contamination in the soil (KARS Park, KSC, FL). I don't know much about it though.

Good luck.


Follow-Up Email
Thank you very much Tanner I really appreciate your quick response. Thank you for the links.



Authored By Mike Coviello (Tanner)


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