Firing ranges expose the environment and the ecosystem to lead pollution caused by the presence of lead in ammunition projectiles. This makes lead pollution a major concern for the public. When these bullets are fired, they emit lead particles that are then inhaled, absorbed into the skin or disposed of in community landfill facilities. Currently, very few cities are taking action to reduce the health threat and environmental burden of lead bullets.
Similar to mercury, lead is both a heavy metal and a potent neurotoxin that builds up over time in bones and soft tissue. Lead particles, dust and gases are especially present at shooting ranges because of the lead components contained in most bullets. Unless the ammunition is specifically manufactured to be lead-free, it is always made with lead. Such bullets contain lead, zinc, copper and antimony; the primer is made up of lead antimony, lead styphnate, zinc, copper, barium and tetazene. Lead styphnate and elemental lead dust are able to attach themselves readily to clothes, hair and skin, and can be passed to another person.
Firearm-related activities represent one of the biggest and most preventable sources of lead poisoning in the environment. Airborne residue and gases discharged from lead projectiles are easily absorbed by the body once they enter the atmosphere. Simply inhaling at a local firing range can easily cause lead particles to be inhaled in to the lungs.
Lead poisoning from firearms can be caused by the shaved lead particles that pass through the barrel, from dust and vaporized lead gases in the air surrounding the firing range, or from handling bullets or spent casings. (Simply touching lead bullets causes exposure to lead.)
Firing ranges are technically toxic waste sites
"The grounds of some of the nation's 8,000 public and private recreational shooting ranges are contaminated with hundreds of tons of lead from bullets," said Rick Lowden, a metallurgist with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a facility managed by the Department of Energy (DOE), in their Metals and Ceramics Division. Lowden is the chief developer of the ESPTM bullet. "The most contaminated ranges pose a threat to humans and wildlife. Ducks and geese have been found poisoned in lakes polluted by lead shot. Shooting ranges could be declared hazardous waste sites by the Environmental Protection Agency when they are shut down, and it will cost millions of dollars to clean them up. DOE recognizes the contamination problem that exists at its own shooting ranges, which are used by security personnel. So, it plans to switch from lead bullets to ESPTM bullets for training and security."
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (www.nssf.org), categories of ranges include handgun outdoors, rifle outdoors, skeet shooting, sporting clays, trap shooting, and cowboy action shooting.
The toxicity of lead exposure
Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) agree that lead harms virtually every system in the body -- physiologically and psychologically. Lead exposure has been recognized as a health hazard for over 2,000 years and can be of particular danger to small children and fetuses, as even the smallest amount can cause irreversible harm.
While lead poisoning usually takes a good deal of time to work its way through the body and cause symptoms, exposure from firing ranges may cause symptoms to appear within a matter of days or weeks. In fact, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), if the lead contained in a single bullet were totally dissolved in the water supply it could contaminate enough water to affect hundreds of thousands of people. Lead accumulates easily in the human body, since it is one of the few elements not eliminated by the kidneys, liver or skin.
The symptoms that arise due to lead poisoning or lead exposure include a long list of ailments: damage to the central nervous system, insomnia, anemia, loss of memory, sudden behavioral changes, difficulty concentrating, headaches, abdominal pains, menstrual irregularity, fatigue, depression, muscle spasms, disorientation, convulsions, psychoses, brain deterioration, brain damage, decreased fertility, malaise, high blood pressure, red blood cell damage, impotence, premature ejaculation, sterility, stillbirth, sore or bleeding gums, loss of appetite, miscarriage, digestive problems, limb paralysis, joint pains, coordination problems, elevated blood pressure, irritability, insanity, confusion, kidney or liver damage, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and even death.
There is now mounting evidence that lead poisoning may cause violence, especially in children, according to a recent report on the effects of lead pollution conducted by EWG and the Violence Policy Center (VPC) entitled "Poisonous Pastime." A subsequent study conducted by Dr. Herbert L. Needleman, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, concluded similar findings, stating: "Lead is a brain poison that interferes with the ability to restrain impulses." Many Americans don't realize that the U.S. alone has around 8,000 shooting ranges, all of which are contaminated with lead pollution -- including the area surrounding the shooting ranges. "Poisonous Pastime" highlights the dangers that come from prolonged contact with lead infested areas, which can poison not only those who visit shooting ranges but also their neighbors, including wildlife and surrounding water sources. The report concluded the total amount of lead released into the environment from shooting ranges represents one of the leading causes of lead pollution in the U.S. -- as much as millions of tons of lead.
"There is no question that the toxic levels of lead at shooting ranges are endangering America's children and families," says VPC senior policy analyst and report author Tom Diaz. "No amount of lead exposure is known to be completely safe for a child. 'Poisonous Pastime' reveals for the first time that the gun industry -- through toxic and unregulated ranges -- is sacrificing the health of our children for profit."
Firearm instructors, range employees and frequent shooters seem to be the group with the highest levels of lead poisoning. However, the families of those contaminated are also at risk, since lead dust is able to attach to anything that might have been exposed at the firing range -- clothes, shoes, bags, hair, etc. According to "Poisonous Pastime," a New Hampshire police captain warns, "If you take your clothing home, you actually contaminate the family clothing when you wash it together." Often, the group that becomes most contaminated by lead exposure are the construction workers that are hired to dismantle, repair or renovate indoor and outdoor shooting ranges. The report states that health officials in California have experienced "some serious lead poisoning cases among construction employees engaged in the demolition of a firing range, as well as among these employees' children."
Treatment and prevention of lead poisoning
Although there is no cure for lead poisoning, it is treatable and proper care can lengthen a person's life and make their suffering more bearable. First, the person must completely eliminate all sources of lead from their daily activities, including any handling of firearms containing lead ammunition and being on or near a firing range.
With treatment and avoidance of any materials or environments containing lead, the symptoms eventually disappear. However, if the symptoms are not caught quickly enough the body may degenerate rapidly, causing irreparable damage. In such cases, the person may be left with chronic health problems, and/or death might be unavoidable.
There are certain drugs that can be administered to an exposed person that allows the heavy metal to work its way out of the body through the digestive tract. What must be seriously considered is that these drugs will also eliminate from the body most other heavy metals such as zinc and copper. This can prove to be especially dangerous since these elements are needed by the body in trace amounts in order to function properly.
Natural treatments include products like Heavy Metal Detox (www.DetoxMetals.com) and Metal Magic (www.BaselineNutritionals.com), both of which help eliminate heavy metals from the body through the binding action of cilantro and chlorella. These products also help remove mercury and cadmium along with lead.
According to Christopher P. Holstege, M.D., an associate professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Virginia, "The cellular, intracellular, and molecular mechanisms of lead neurotoxicity are numerous, as lead impacts many biological activities at different levels of control: at the voltage-gated channels and on the first, second, and third messenger systems. Lead impacts postnatal reorganization of brain through a number of recognized mechanisms: decreased oligodendrite density; myelin deposition; cortical synaptogenesis; induces precocious glial cell differentiation; blocks voltage-sensitive calcium channels; interferes with neurotransmitters; disorganized synaptic pruning; interferes with protein kinases."
EPA loopholes allow firing ranges to continue poisoning the environment
If firing ranges were to implement even the most basic safety standards, such as regular removal of lead bullets and casings from the soil, the safe disposal of lead waste, and shooting over land instead of water, lead toxicity could be reduced. Firing ranges, however, remain curiously exempt from almost all major pollution control laws in the U.S.
They also are not required to follow the EPA's new lead reporting requirements, or any measures of the Clean Water Act or the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This is because the EPA does not interpret the act of firing bullets into the soil or water as "discarding" lead -- just one of a number of loopholes that allow firing ranges to operate despite unlimited lead contamination.
Still, not everyone is convinced that lead bullets represent one of the biggest causes of lead contamination on the environment. Steve Williams, president of the Wildlife Management Institute, believes that the evidence is not conclusive. Williams, a former director of the Fish and Wildlife Service in the Bush administration, said he was "happy to learn that hunters are taking action on their own," to reduce the use of lead bullets, although he admits that more study is needed.
Some of the best ways to prevent lead poisoning and exposing others to lead contamination include:
• If you visit a firing range, wash your hair when you get home to remove lead particles.
• Always wash your hands and face before eating.
• Wear an air filtration mask while spending any time on the firing range.
• Clear you sinuses by blowing your nose after using the firing range. Yoga practitioners often use a neti pot to wash the sinuses with salt water, but it's probably not likely that many people are both yoga practitioners and shooting range customers.
• Change your clothes and shoes so you do not contaminate your home, your office or your car. Wash them separately from your family's clothing.
• Have a regular medical checkup and request that you be checked for lead levels.
• Switch to ammunition that contains lead-free primers -- this is widely available from most makers in many popular calibers.
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