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How Dangerous Is the Lead in Bullets?

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- 1875 days ago -
It's all in the lead. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences found that OSHA lead exposure standards are too lax to protect military firing range employees.

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JL A (281)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 3:33 pm

Mother Jones
How Dangerous Is the Lead in Bullets?
A new report finds dangerously high levels of vaporized lead at military firing ranges. Here's what this means for civilians.

By Sarah Zhang | Thu Jan. 3, 2013 1:33 PM PST

The most ubiquitous danger at firing ranges has a lot to do with bullets but nothing to do with getting shot.

It's all in the lead. A recent report [1] from the National Academy of Sciences found that OSHA lead exposure standards are too lax to protect military firing range employees. Repeated exposure to the toxic metal causes a raft of health problems including brain damage, high blood pressure, and anemia.

Lead is found in bullets as well as the explosive that ignites gunpowder. When a bullet is fired, it gets so hot that that lead actually vaporizes. Firing range employees breathe in the lead fumes, as well as ingest lead dust that settles on their body and clothes. OSHA sets the permissible level of atmospheric lead at 50 micrograms/meter2, but the report found that level frequently exceeded at military firing ranges, sometimes by several orders of magnitude.

America's Real Criminal Element: Lead [2]
Is There Lead In Your House? [3]
An Interview With Pioneering Toxicologist Howard Mielke [4]
How Dangerous Is the Lead in Bullets? [5]
Does Lead Paint Produce More Crime Too? [6]
How Your Water Company May Be Poisoning Your Kids [7]

More MoJo coverage of the dangers of lead.
The new report also finds OSHA's blood lead level recommendation of 40 µg/dL or lower to be too high. That limit hasn't changed since 1978, but subsequent research has found health problems at blood lead levels as low as 5 µg/dL. Lead is so damaging because it mimics calcium, an ion with essential roles everywhere in the body from bones to nerve cells. (It's especially dangerous for children with developing brains, which is why you hear so much about lead paint.) The report devotes more than 70 pages to detailing lead's many toxic effects in nearly every organ in the body, including the brain, blood, kidneys, heart, and reproductive organs.

How can firing range workers reduce their exposure? The most direct solution is switching to lead-free ammunition [8] or at least jacketed bullets, which have a lead core covered with a coating made of copper or nylon. Lead has been traditionally favored because of its density, but the military has since developed lead-free ammunition that reportedly works just as well.

If OSHA adopts more stringent standards, it would be just another step in the long incremental march toward recognizing lead's dangers. Over the past several decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has lowered the blood lead level of concern in children from 60 µg/dL to 25 to 10 to its current 5, and the metal has largely vanished from gasoline, water pipes, tin cans, and paint.

That's great, but lead is an element, so it doesn't degrade or become less toxic over time. Old bullets (or paint or gas or any other cause) leach lead into the soil; from there the metal gets into groundwater [9] and plants [10] and the bodies of animals [11]. The military has been cleaning up some 700 of its shooting ranges [12], and while that's not cheap, Kevin Drum's "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead [2]" makes a compelling case that it's far less expensive than the costs that come with lead exposure—including violent crime, lower IQs, and ADHD.

In any case, the lessons learned from cleaning up firing ranges are relevant even if you have never owned a gun or live nowhere near a firing range. That's because soil lead is actually as ubiquitous of a public-health hazard as the better publicized problem of lead paint. If you live in a city, chances are your house is surrounded by soil with fairly high levels of lead. To find out more about the risk you face, read "Is There Lead in Your House? [3]"—also in the January/February 2013 [13] issue of Mother Jones.
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Christeen A (368)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 5:09 pm
Let's get the lead out. Thank you.

Christopher M. (4)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 5:40 pm
Is this supposed to be funny?

JL A (281)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 5:42 pm
No Christopher--deadly serious.

Terry V (30)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 6:00 pm
Lead, mercury, asbestos, arsenic, all of them and more are found in older buildings.

JL A (281)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 6:02 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Terry because you have done so within the last day.

Wednesday April 3, 2013, 6:08 pm
read and noted on 4-3-13 there are many toxins out there that are very harmful to humans and the environment and our wildlife for instance we have toxins in our water that we consume and also in our waterways that harm our fish and other living mamals,but of all the highly toxins out there asbestos and lead are the main killers i have worked in those fields of employment,but anymore there's nothing out there today in our world thats 100% safe it's all around us if we all take a stand and contact our government and the epa and voice our concerns maybe then someone will take us for what it's worth and due something about these problems we can no longer just sit on the fence and do nothing our lifes are worth more than death.

Kit B (276)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 6:28 pm

I read this when I got my copy of Mother Jones, and I still have trouble comprehending that anyone could not understand that lead is a deadly toxin. I too had believed or assumed that all of these requirements had been constantly subject to the newest science information. Unfortunately, we have no idea just how much this lead has caused diseases that slowly kill humans and animals alike. When and how did science become the dirty word in the US? This once great country thrived because of science.

JL A (281)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 6:32 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last day.

Sylvia M (70)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 6:52 pm
Um...dangerous enough to kill a person?

Angelika R (143)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 7:48 pm
Operation Cast Lead throughout the US here? Goodness..unbelievable. Here too some old buildings used to have lead pipes in them (mainly for water) until long ago by law they all had to be replaced.

JL A (281)
Wednesday April 3, 2013, 7:57 pm
In the US laws often are written that the safe/better are not required until the part is being replaced or something similar. You cannot currently send a star to Angelika because you have done so within the last day.

Scott haakon (4)
Thursday April 4, 2013, 7:45 am
Actually this is over stated with out complete evidence. Worse is that the environmentally ammunition may be not available to civilian shooters.

Past Member (0)
Thursday April 4, 2013, 11:38 am
There is lead all around
They say if you live in a city you should not really even grow your own veg because of the lead contamination

JL A (281)
Thursday April 4, 2013, 11:40 am
Thanks Carol for the UK perspective, that addresses some of Scott's partial evidence that doesn't truly support his claim.

Alice C (1797)
Thursday April 4, 2013, 12:20 pm
Lead in bullets are very dangerous to our environment in any shape or form.
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