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The toxic effects of lead have been recognized throughout history. Lead poisoning has been identified in miners and metallurgists since early B. C. In the early 1900’s, doctors recognized that industrial hygiene was a way of identifying, controlling and evaluating the hazards of lead exposure.
Lead remains the number one environmental health hazard for children. More than 30 million American adults, who were exposed to lead as children, may be at risk. High blood lead levels usually result from inhaling or ingesting lead, as lead is not readily absorbed through skin.
Studies show individuals with elevated blood lead levels early in life have an increased rate of mortality as they age.
1. Cancer and cardiovascular disease.
2. Higher death rates.
These health problems are linked to blood lead levels at lower than those presently established by the Center for Disease Control (CDC):
1. Under Age 16 = 10 mcg/dL;
2. Pregnant or breast feeding women = 10 mcg/dL; and
3. All other persons = 25 mcg/dL.
Current blood lead levels are greater than those used during the study.
The following are the standards published by OSHA:
1. 50 mcg/dL = Medical Removal; and
2. 40 mcg/dL = Return to work.
Lead residue on the hands and face can be detrimental to those people who eat, drink or smoke before properly cleansing their skin. A person exposed to lead who returns home from work or the firing range, brings the lead contamination into his home. Lead sticks to hands, shoes, arms and apparel, exposing his family members to the contaminant. Presumably, because most firing ranges are contaminated with lead, the people who use the range are exposed to and may themselves become contaminated with lead.
According to the National Rifle Association (NRA) there are approximately 37,000,000 shooters in the United States. Many of these shooters reload their own bullets. Some shooters even cast lead.
The act of shooting a firearm results in “blowback”. When the bullet exits the barrel of the firearm, particles of lead and lubricant are vaporized and “blown back” onto the shooters’ hands and face. If the hands and face are not properly cleaned, the shooter may inhale or ingest these particles. When the particles are inhaled or ingested, the blood lead level increases.
Casting lead is just as dangerous, as shooting from a lead exposure viewpoint. Melting lead in order to cast bullets can create lead dust and fumes. Refrain from melting and casting lead in a home where children are present. When casting lead at home, make sure the area is well ventilated and follow proper cleaning procedures. If proper precautions are not taken when casting, lead residue falls to the floor and may be tracked throughout the house. Lead dust also settles on the body and clothes allowing other areas of the home to become contaminated.
Lead entering the body is stored in the blood, organs and bones. From there, it affects the nervous system, digestive system, reproductive system and kidneys. Lead build up is cumulative and stays in the body for years. The typical body only eliminate about one milligram of lead each day. If one’s exposure is more than one milligram through inhalation and ingestion, any amount greater than one milligram, will remain in the system. Therefore, if continued doses of lead are accumulated, the blood lead level increases.
There are several simple steps which may be taken to reduce the amount of lead absorbed by the body:
1. Always wash your hands, face and arms AFTER shooting and reloading, especially BEFORE eating, drinking or smoking.
2. Wash clothes separately.
3. Do not reload or cast bullets at home without proper precautions; and
4. Use separate shoes at the range
What can be done when it is discovered that you have an elevated blood lead level or lead poisoning? With an elevated blood lead level, it is important to remove yourself from further exposure to lead until your blood lead level returns to a normal rating. If excessive lead exposure occurs, as evidenced by an elevated blood lead level, it may take months or years to return to an acceptable level. If lead poisoning has occurred, chelation therapy, under the care of a doctor, is recommended to reduce the toxic level of lead in the body. Chelation therapy is costly and takes a long time.
Especially for children, diet is important, in helping prevent lead poisoning. “Proper nutrition and hygiene can help protect children from lead exposure. Diets high in calcium and iron act as lead blockers. Washing the hands and face of a child before meals can reduce risk.” 1
Many people are unaware of the serious effects lead has on children, pregnant or breast feeding women and the general population. Lead poisoning can occur from various sources such as lead in drinking water, lead based paint and industrial lead residues. Furthermore, experts are researching increased cases of lead poisoning found in individuals who are recreational and occupational shooters.
In order to prevent lead intoxication from occurring, you must first become aware of the problem and how to solve it. Literature about lead poisoning can be found on the Internet, at the library and is also provided by OSHA and your local health departments.
Spread the word about the harmful effects of lead, you may save a life!
1 LBW Kittle, Washington State Department of Health (Kid Source On LineÔ)
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