Friday, May 12, 2017

Lead Poisoning and Guns

If you've wondered why gun nuts are ... the way they are, there's an actual scientific reason: they're suffering from lead poisoning.
A review of lead exposure at shooting ranges [...] published last month found that nearly all participants in the 36 studies had blood lead levels above the 5 microgram ceiling recommended by the CDC; some had levels higher than 40. "You got to understand, the more bullets you shoot, the higher your blood lead level. The more visits you take to the range, then the higher your blood lead level."
Lead dust hangs in the air at shooting ranges, ejected from the ejection port and the muzzle when the bullet is scored by the rifling of the barrel -- the lands and grooves that make ballistics matching of bullets to guns possible.

Interestingly, high levels of lead (from leaded gasoline) led to an epidemic of violent crime in the 1960s. There's a direct correlation between lead levels and violent behavior.

Lead poisoning is not an insignificant problem, and it doesn't just affect shooters:
A 1-year-old boy in Connecticut was found to have high blood lead levels at a routine doctor's visit. There were no lead paint or pipes in the child's home. The exposure was traced to his father's job as a maintenance worker at an indoor shooting range; the father cared for his son after work in lead-contaminated clothing, according to a 2015 report from the state public health department.
What does lead do to you?
Many effects from lead can be subtle or nonspecific, says Mark Laidlaw, an environmental health scientist at RMIT University in Australia. "Memory and concentration problems, headache, abdominal pain, mood disorders – they can be attributed to a number of things unrelated to lead," he says. "You can have one of these health effects, but the shooters might not realize these are associated with their shooting. They just don't know they're being lead poisoned."

At levels slightly higher than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, people may begin suffering spontaneous abortions or kidney dysfunction, according to the CDC. As the volume of lead in the body increases, the effects become more severe.

"At levels of 10 or less, there's definitely evidence of increased incidence of tremor. Some are more cognitive effects," says Catherine Beaucham, an industrial hygienist at NIOSH and author of a 2014 report that found that most people with elevated blood levels were exposed from working at recreational firing ranges. "With acute lead poisoning, you can get wrist drop, nerve problems, abdominal pain. If it gets high enough, you can get a coma and death."
 How much lead exposure is safe?
Currently, the OSHA standards for lead exposure decree that employees must stop working if they have a blood lead level of 60 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, and workers can return to the job if their blood lead level drops below 40 for two consecutive tests. But adverse effects on cardiovascular health, brain function and kidney function have been connected to blood lead levels as low as 5. "There's no amount of lead in your blood that's safe," Page says. 
This puts a whole new spin on that old gangster joke, "He had a bad case of lead poisoning."

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