Today in the Seattle Times a huge investigative story broke about lead contamination from gun ranges, mostly indoor ranges. Read Article. I know this article will raise a lot of hackles. I am not happy with the timing of it since we have an anti-gun Initiative coming up and this is more fuel for the fire. I also will take with a grain of salt the organizations they received data from etc. That is another conversation. But, the topic of lead is something we personally do need to take a look at. Last year Wade’s Gun Range in Bellevue hit the news about having crazy levels of lead spilling out of their range and many construction workers and former employees that were exposed and tested positive for higher than normal levels of lead. This is what led to this bigger national story researched by the Times. I know of an outdoor range in OR that nearly broke the club members apart because one member came forward with concerns of lead issues. There were costly court cases and permanent damage to relations among some members. I personally know people that tested for high levels of lead from being in certain shooting environments. But I have also seen those people’s levels drop once they changed their environment and took better precautions when shooting. Is this really as big an issue as this article makes it out to be? The last thing I want is a knee jerk reaction by the government to start banning ammo and shutting down ranges. I can also see it now that the anti-gun crowd will use this as another excuse to try for more controls. Banning ammo is not how to control this situation. California already has banned lead hunting ammo. Which I can guarantee no one is following. They did it not because of environmental or human safety. They say they are saving the condor because they eat leftover carcases of animals hunted with lead pellets. The condor. Really? Not for human safety but for the condor. Just like the farmer’s drought they have because of a stupid minnow they are protecting. There are many nonsense laws from knee jerk reactions. Correct, lead poisoning in our blood is nothing to laugh at. If out of hand it can permanently disable you. BUT! Guests and employees of gun ranges can easily take care to avoid over exposure.
I used to work at a great range in Bellevue called West Coast Armory/Bellevue Gun Range (WCA). When they first opened they were given a 5 Star rating by the NSSF and OSHA that they had taken great measure to control lead exposure. Their air system recirculates every 90 seconds. I remember grumbling that I had to clean every nook and cranny, floors, benches, counters, computer keyboards, you name it, on a daily basis. We used a de-lead product on everything. The bathroom hand soaps have it. There were signs everywhere to wash hands and face after shooting. No food was allowed in the range, etc. But guess what? It worked. They had employees that previously worked at Wade’s that tested high with lead in their system. They worked the same hours at WCA and their levels immediately decreased. I do not know how accurate the Times article is about their tests and the organizations that gave them info. (When I say this I am not referring to the Times’ research. I am referring to the govt organizations the data comes from) I am sure this debate will go on for a long time. There will also be many gun and range owners on fire after this article goes national this weekend. Look at the battles over GMOs and the organic debate. It will never stop. But let’s just focus on the one picture of lead exposure to you and me and our kids and pets for the moment. How do we each need to personally take precautions without going to extreme measures? It is quite easy. Most people only go to an indoor range once in a blue moon. But some of you were regulars at the range a few times a week. No matter how often you are there or working there you can take care.
Lesson #1 – Don’t go to or work at a range with poor hygiene.
I am not trying to put anyone out of business here. But you are responsible for yourself. If you are concerned than research your indoor range you go to and make sure it is a clean place with a good air system. They don’t have to be rated by the NSSF to be clean enough. That certainly is a nice sign to see in the window but there are good ranges that have not gone through the effort yet to get the BBB of ranges stamp. So it does not mean they are a bad range. But you can tell when you walk in to a “dirty” place. I have been in to some indoor ranges where you could feel/smell the thickness of the crummy air. I would actually cough because it was so “smokey”. You just knew you were breathing in bad stuff. Don’t shoot or work at a place like that.
Lesson 2 – Wash up
If you do shoot at any range, indoor or outdoor, make sure you wash your hands immediately afterwards with cold water and a de-lead soap. Any soap is better than none but hopefully your range offers that. If possible do not wait until you get home. You just touched your car door handle, steering wheel, nibbled on McD’s french fries, scratched your face and pet your dog before you got to your home sink. Get some de-lead hand wipes. A great product. Keep that in your range bag. I will even wipe off the bottom of my shoes before I step in to my car.
Lesson 3 – Speaking of Shoes
So if you possibly have residue on your hands then you possibly will have it on your shoes and clothes. Just as a precaution, when I got home from working at the range I took my shoes off outside the door. I do not work at the range anymore but I shoot at outside ranges and matches all of the time. I do not wear those shoes inside my house. I will put my clothes directly in to the washer as well. Try to keep all of your range gear in one place at all times when stored.
Lesson 4 – My personal choice is not to shoot ammo or load ammo with out copper jacketed bullets.
Many competitor friends that load their own ammo use non jacketed bullets to save money. Personally in our house we will not do that. I do not know the tests about that stuff but we choose not to. When shooting any of these rounds just make sure you have a strong ventilation system at your indoor range or shoot outdoors. And really really really take care to wash up afterwards. .22 ammo is made with lead bullets so make sure your kids on the small bore team have a well ventilated range. Outside I am not so concerned. But the same rules should apply to wash up afterwards.
Safety in any sport is something you need to take care of yourself. This article in no way will keep from me from going to the range. Nor should it anyone. We do not need to panic and ban lead ammo or shut places down. You choose what to eat and drink and you choose the activities you do. Being healthy is your own responsibility. Not the governments. Yours.