Lead Is Toxic. So what?

Pb is the universally accepted, scientific symbol for the element lead; but to hunters it might as well symbolize controversy.

Whenever the subject of lead comes up, talk about banning something isn’t far behind. And because the bans invariably render equipment and techniques we’ve been using for years obsolete, we tend to get our hackles up.

However, we need to recognize that lead can be hazardous and, when discussing it, leave our emotions at the door and be guided by logic and science.

Unfortunately, it often takes years of research to come to a definitive scientific answer on a subject, and how hazardous lead is in sporting applications certainly fits that model. While the debate about lead in shotshells has pretty much concluded, there’s still controversy about lead fishing tackle.

Another settled issue, is the hazard created by airborne lead. Everybody should know by now that airborne lead has significant toxic potential and we need to be careful around the stuff. How careful, is related directly to how much you shoot. I personally know two people—and have heard of many more—who have suffered serious lead poisoning because of their exposure to lead originating from shooting-related activities. Usually, the cause is indoor ranges with poor ventilation.

So, What Should You Do?
Dealing safely with lead is relatively easy. First, limit your exposure to lead by avoiding indoor ranges with bad ventilation and by performing other potentially hazardous activities, such as casting, only in well ventilated areas.

Practice good hygiene by showering or washing after lead exposure and always wear protective equipment when appropriate, especially a good respirator—which, by the way, is refreshingly cheap. A HEPA-rated respirator is typically less than $30.

Second, during your annual medical, ask your doctor to check your blood for lead. It’s just another box for him to check on the form and the lab will do the test at the same time they’re testing for all that other stuff you shouldn’t have too much of—like cholesterol. These test results will tell you how you’re doing at managing lead contamination.

And don’t forget the kids in your life. There is no significant lead hazard involved in the small amount of shooting most children do, but if you have a son or daughter who puts in a lot of trigger time or is otherwise exposed to potential lead contamination, educate them on the hazards.

Of special concern to me are the little tykes I see around shooting ranges who make a game of collecting empty cartridge cases. That’s harmless fun, except that those little fingers will eventually end up in little mouths and then we have lead ingestion, which isn’t good. Something as simple as the pre-moistened hand wipes you can buy at any grocery store are all that’s required to clean hands and remove the hazard.

There’s no need to get paranoid: Dealing with lead is easy—it just requires a level of awareness and a willingness to address it.

Yes, lead is toxic and we need to be careful about inhaling and ingesting it, and we also must extend that protection to those in our care. We all realize lead is toxic, but there’s no need to ban everything containing it. It takes just a little knowledge and a few practical steps to manage it safely.


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