Shooting A Gun Will Give You Lead Poisoning

No, this headline isn’t tongue-in-cheek.  I had a heckuva time writing it, because this article is serious.  I gave up trying to write something catchy, played it straight, and wrote a simple factual statement.  Seriously, I did.  I can’t outdo the Seattle Times’ reportage on this issue, so I’ll just quote from their story (under Fair Use, edited for brevity and clarity):

“[T]he popularity of shooting has rocketed … [b]ut a hidden risk lies within … America’s estimated 10,000 gun ranges. When shooters fire … lead-based ammunition, they spread lead vapor and dust …. [W]orkers, shooters and their family members, have been contaminated …. Even those who’ve never stepped inside a gun range have become sick. …

“Employees have carried lead residue into their homes on their skin, clothes, shoes and work gear, inadvertently contaminating family members, including [their] children …. For the public, shooting firearms is the most common way of getting lead poisoning outside of work, according to national statistics.

“The nation has an estimated 6,000 commercial indoor and outdoor gun ranges, but only 201 have been inspected in the past decade, … according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) records. Of those inspected, 86 percent violated at least one lead-related standard …. Of the 10 commercial ranges inspected in Washington, nine had at least one lead violation.

“OSHA typically doesn’t examine a gun range unless it receives a blood-test report that shows an employee … has been overexposed … or … someone complains. In states such as Washington and California, authorities knew about workers with severe lead poisoning, but failed to inspect the shooting ranges that employed them. In 14 states, federal and state occupational agencies didn’t inspect a single commercial gun range from 2004 to 2013 …. Washington state and federal workplace regulators have the power to temporarily close a lead-polluted shooting range … but have never done so.

“Several thousand other indoor and outdoor gun ranges in America — most of them casually operated by volunteer-led clubs and sports organizations with little knowledge of lead safety — don’t even have to follow OSHA regulations …because they have no employees.

“Publicly, the [NRA] dismisses contentions by health officials that lead is a widespread health and safety problem at shooting ranges. … But research by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health … shows … [it] is ‘a serious problem and we think it could be quite widespread,’ said Dr. Elana Page, medical officer for NIOSH. …

“The CDC [says] lead causes health problems like organ damage at … 10 micrograms …. But OSHA’s 36-year-old regulations say employees can have up to six times that amount of lead in their blood before being removed from the work area. …  Despite the CDC’s concern, OSHA has yet to adopt more stringent lead regulations to protect workers. …”

In other words, gun ranges are exceptionally dangerous places, even if you’re only breathing the air there.  You can read the rest of the article here:Roger Rabbit icon

“Lead poisoning” has morphed into a joke.  You get it from being shot, the joke goes.  But joking about it masks a very serious health problem; you don’t have to be shot to get lead poisoning.  Being on the other end of the gun can give it to you, and a lot of gun lovers are unknowingly harming themselves and their family members by shooting their guns.

As a kid I heard about lead poisoning, but in a different context.  Back then children got it from lead-based paint, which eventually was outlawed.  It also existed in air pollution, especially in cities, from leaded gasoline — which also was outlawed.  Maybe guns should be outlawed?  Nah, this generation of Americans will never do that.  They’re too steeped in gun lore and gun love.  They won’t stop loving their guns, much less shooting them.  So we’re facing another U.S. epidemic of lead poisoning, among gun lovers, unless Ebola gets them first.

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