Lead Exposure While Shooting

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Let’s talk about lead exposure while shooting. Lead exposure is a big concern in all modern industrial societies in general, and especially when it comes to firing guns, that is a very large concern. So without further ado, I want to talk about how we can identify the certain factors that add to lead exposure. We’ll also cover ways to mitigate them safely.

Lead Exposure While Shooting
Jacketed bullets have lead on the inside, and their can be lead in the primer too. Lead, a heavy metal, is nasty stuff – so you want to minimize your contact with it at all times. Photo Credit: US Army.

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Where Does Lead Come From?

Lead is usually found in both bullets as well as in primers. With primers, when it is struck, it usually expels some sort of lead vapor. With the bullet itself, there is often a lead core that is exposed at the base. If it is a jacketed hollow point, it is exposed at the tip too. That, nonetheless, seems to leak some sort of lead material as it leaves the barrel – in both some sort of vaporized gas as well as in particulate matter.

One thing to note: There are lead-free primers and bullets on the market. They’re just simply less common than their lead counterparts. But regardless, lead is usually some sort of factor that you want to think of when you are firing a gun. When it is vaporized and becomes particulate, it usually will find itself all over your gun. It will find itself on the end of the muzzle, especially, it will find itself on whatever targets you’re hitting. It will settle on the ground, and it will get blown back at you, especially if you’re firing a Direct Impingement (DI) platform like the AR.

There's a whole lot of lead here ...
There’s a whole lot of lead here … Photo Credit: US Army

Factors that Enhance Lead Exposure

Many factors enhance lead exposure when shooting. That can be wind when the rounds are being fired and expelling the vapor and particulate. Suppose you do have a headwind that will actually contribute to additional lead going your direction. In that case, this also might be enhanced by shooting indoors – where there might be a larger accumulation of lead on surfaces as well as a lack of ventilation. That traps the lead in that room. This can also be steel targets. When hit, steel targets are obviously hit with the round, and that lead spall and splatter collects on the surface. Therefore you want to make sure that if you are ferrying around steel targets, please make sure they’re not touching anything that you are actively normally touching and that you are handling in a contained manner. That means wearing gloves, putting them in some sort of a container or bag. Make sure that it’s not touching anything else you care about.

Lastly, reloading. This includes when you’re actually reloading ammo, when you’re manufacturing ammo, as well as if you are collecting brass for reloading. That brass also has lead particulate leftover on it once it’s ejected after being shot. Please don’t collect this in something like a hat that you wear, and then you got your lead hair, and then you touch your lead hair, and then you eat. It’s just not good. So please don’t do that.

Lead Exposure Effects

So why do we care about lead exposure? We want to mitigate blood exposure so that we avoid lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is an over-accumulation of lead and concentrations in the blood. We want to mitigate that as best as we can so that we don’t reach critical levels to adversely affect our health. So as far as what lead poisoning might look like, it can affect every single organ in your body. But it is different for every individual, and there is absolutely no very clear symptom as they are all very unique and different.

Blood poisoning can manifest in various forms such as difficulty concentrating, headaches, abdominal pain, kidney problems, nerve disorders, and general mood disorders. While you can’t just pinpoint it by symptoms, testing is the best way to do this. Another thing to keep in mind is that children absorb lead at far higher rates than adults do. This can lead to developmental issues as well as further medical complications. Pregnant people can experience premature births and miscarriage, so please factor all this in as you prepare for lead mitigation.

There are some pretty typical lead levels found in blood, such as ten micrograms per deciliter in adults and five or below in children by comparison. However, pre-industrial civilizations were found to average around point zero one six micrograms per deciliter. There are no good lead levels in the blood, and we want to make sure that we are mitigating that as much as possible.

Safety Measures

It’s very important to mitigate your lead exposure. If you feel that you are regularly exposed to lead at high concentrations, you should be tested regularly. When it comes to mitigating lead exposure, there are some very simple but proactive measures that you should be taking when firing a gun. The first thing that I would like to recommend is wearing shooting gloves. The very first point of contact that creates lead exposure is usually going to be your hands. If you can help prevent your hands from getting dirty in the first place, all the better. The largest vector for lead exposure is going to be through your face. Either from ingesting and breathing lead particulates and vapor. For that reason, you may want to consider wearing a respirator when you shoot.

Another thing to keep in mind is your ammunition type. Shooting fully jacketed ammunition greatly reduces the amount of exposure from the round itself. Aside from the gear, there are some very good habits to practice when shooting and handling firearms. The largest thing, as I said before, is your face. You want to make sure that you’re not getting stuff on your face, you’re not absorbing it through your skin, you’re not breathing it, you’re not eating it, you’re not putting it on your hair for it to get on something else later. Therefore you want to make sure that you’re not eating or drinking at the range with your bare hands. If you are eating, you need to use some sort of wrapper as a barrier to whatever you are consuming and that you are not touching on the surfaces that come in contact with your mouth.

Getting the Lead Off

How do you get the lead off? Well, you can get Lead Off Wipes. This is a wipe that helps bond to lead particulates and removes whatever lead particulates are on that surface that it comes in contact with. There’s also D-lead wipes. There’s also D-lead hand soap that you can wash your hands with. This is great for wiping off your face after shooting, wiping off your hands, your arms, etc. It’s also great to wipe off the surface of your guns so that when you’re handling your guns and training at home doing dry fire practice, you have a little bit less exposure.

When I get home from a day at the range, I like to keep everything very well contained and not in contact with the rest of the stuff I interact with daily. That means taking my shoes off at the outside of the door, not tracking it inside, and getting stuff everywhere. I put those shoes in a plastic bag. I then store that away, and that way, they’re all nicely contained. I do clean off those surfaces so that no one else touches that and then spreads lead all over the place. You want to make sure that you’re treating the stuff like anthrax.

Basically, you want everything that comes in contact with any lead and surface to be thoroughly cleaned and that you are mitigating that exposure as much as possible. I really want to stress that kids and pets are very susceptible to lead exposure. So that being said, you want to make sure that they’re not coming up to you when you get home and giving you a big old hug. You want to make sure they’re staying away from you until you’re thoroughly decontaminated.

If it helps, I would probably bring a change of clothing to the range to change into. So when you come home, you are a little bit cleaner at least. Also, with pets, keep in mind that they do like their paws. So again, if you’re getting anything on the surface of your floor, be sure it’s cleaned afterward.


Owning firearms is a huge responsibility. You need to take ownership of every effect that ensues and follows your usage of a firearm. That means not only owning where the bullet lands but also all the effects that come after. That includes long-term effects like lead exposure. Please make sure that you are mitigating that and that you are keeping yourself safe and everyone you care about and love.

Lead exposure
Imagine all the lead in here. Photo Credit: US Army

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