Lead Exposure is a Real Risk

NEWARK, NJ - The NJ Poison Center was contacted regarding lead poisoning in a young man with an elevated lead level of 60 mcg/dl. He decided to be tested for lead after hearing about the dangers associated with lead exposure. After investigating the potential sources of lead, it was determined the exposure occurred at an indoor shooting range due to a faulty air ventilation system.  

Yes, believe it or not, adults can get lead poisoning too. Since this week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week (October 22-28, 2017), it is a good time to remind everyone that although most think of children when they hear the terms lead exposure or lead poisoning, many adults have high levels of lead in their blood (lead poisoning) and do not know it. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there is no safe level of lead. Lead can cause significant damage to a person’s health affecting all organs and functions of the body. Some of the damage can be permanent.

Lead gets into the body by inhaling, ingesting or absorbing lead dust/particles. Lead travels through the blood and is distributed throughout the body. Over time, lead collects and is stored in the bones. Health effects depend upon how much lead is in the body and how long the person was exposed to the lead. Some effects include high blood pressure, decreased sex drive, infertility, memory loss and difficulty concentrating, hearing and vision problems, tiredness, and irritability and mood disorder. A blood test is the only way to measure the amount of lead in the body.

Hobbyists (adults and children) who enjoy shooting at indoor gun ranges as well as employees, gun instructors, gunsmiths, police and any other professions that deal with firearms or lead are at risk for lead exposure. If an indoor gun range does not have proper ventilation, the shooter is exposed to lead dust that comes out of the gun’s muzzle when fired. Lead dust can linger in the air and collect on the shooter’s hands, face and clothing, where it can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed into the body.

Not only is a shooter at potential risk, so is his/her family. Lead dust/particles can be carried into vehicles and homes from contaminated skin and clothing. “Take home” lead is harmful to anyone exposed to it especially young children and pregnant women. A fetus can be exposed to lead’s dangerous effects if the mother has an elevated blood lead level.

Here are some ways to stay safe and protect you and your family from lead exposure.

  • Wash hands and face before you eat, drink, or smoke.
  • Never eat, drink, or smoke in areas of lead dust and fumes. 
  • If possible, shower and change clothes and shoes before leaving. Place previously worn clothes in a bag and tie it up.
  • Wash work/hobby clothes separately from the family’s clothes.
  • Keep children away from work and hobby areas.
  • Do NOT put leaded material in your mouth.
  • Keep all work and hobby materials away from living areas.

Shooting at indoor ranges is safe when there is proper air ventilation. Unfortunately, these ventilation systems occasionally fail, increasing the risk of lead poisoning to workers and shooters.  Always remember to take the necessary steps to prevent lead exposure. “If you shoot or work at an indoor gun range, consider getting tested for lead,” says Diane Calello, MD, NJ Poison Control Center Executive and Medical Director, Rutgers NJ Medical School.

Lead poisoning is serious. Get help right away if you suspect someone was exposed to lead. Call the NJ Poison Control Center unless the person is unconscious, not breathing, hard to wake up, or seizing then call 9-1-1. Poison control centers are a great resource for information and emergencies. Keep us at your fingertips. Save the Poison Help number (1-800-222-1222) as a contact in your cell phone.

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