“It’s disheartening. They should have known better.”
May 26, 2015 2:40 PM   Subscribe

Loaded with Lead. America has an estimated 10,000 gun ranges and 40 million annual recreational shooters. But when guns are fired with lead-based ammunition, they spread a toxin: lead vapor and dust. A year-long Seattle Times investigation shows that due to poor ventilation and contact with lead-coated surfaces, thousands of workers, shooters and their family members have been contaminated and been made sick at shooting ranges nationwide. Reckless range owners/operators, unenforced regulations as well as a lack of oversight and inspections are to blame.

Lead exposure can cause an array of health problems — from nausea and fatigue to organ damage, mental impairment and even death. For the public, shooting firearms is the most common way of getting lead poisoning outside of work, according to national statistics.

Part 1: Lead poisoning is a major threat at America’s shooting ranges, perpetuated by owners who’ve repeatedly violated laws even after workers have fallen painfully ill.
Part 2: Shooting range poisoned dozens: the worst known case of workplace lead exposure at a U.S. range happened during renovations at Wade’s Eastside Guns in Bellevue, WA in 2012. But documented hazards there go back to 2008.
Part 3: At a shooting club in Vancouver, Wash., 20 youngsters tested positive for lead overexposure. ‘We would get lead on our hands and eat finger food,’ one teenager recalls.
Part 4: Police agencies across the country have put their officers in harm’s way by using lead-polluted shooting ranges and by not educating them about safe practices.
Part 5: To train their officers, federal law-enforcement agencies have awarded contracts to contaminated commercial gun ranges, riling unions and sparking calls for reform.

About the Project

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From the piece:
How to protect yourself
• If you believe you’ve been overexposed to lead, see a medical provider to have your blood tested for lead.
• To determine whether surfaces you come into contact with have lead contamination, use instant lead-check swabs, which turn red if lead is present. Test kits are available at hardware stores.
• Use special hand soap or wipes, such as D-Lead brand, which remove lead and heavy metals from the skin.
• To talk to a specialist about lead safety, call 1-800-424-LEAD (5323), and press option 1 then 9.
• National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, Oct. 19-25: For more information on the hazards of lead and lead-based products, go to epa.gov/lead.
posted by zarq (75 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
The "lead dust" effect in these articles reacts to mouse-overs. So if a quote or statistic seems like it's cut off, (white text on dark background) mouse over it to reveal the whole thing.
posted by zarq at 2:47 PM on May 26, 2015


California is actually pretty good about this, with the ranges being required to install specialized equipment, as well as use HEPA vacuums. I remember that one of the old guys who volunteered in the NRA program where I learned to shoot (as a child) warned us about the dangers of lead exposure. He'd been a lifetime competitor and ended up having to go through chelation treatments at one point. Yeah.
posted by wuwei at 2:52 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


So this is awful. And in the circles I run with, the types of folks who spend the most time at gun ranges are also the types to be really hostile to the idea of government regulations forcing changes on the way that things are done, so I don't see much changing at the gun ranges around here.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:52 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


California is actually pretty good about this

I thought so too. Then I read the section in part one called "California's lead problems."
posted by zarq at 2:58 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


> the types of folks who spend the most time at gun ranges are also the types to be really hostile to the idea of government regulations forcing changes on the way that things are done.

Given the connection between lead exposure and damage to the brain (specifically in areas that I'd hand-wave at as "lower empathy" and "heightened aggressiveness"), I wonder if this is maybe even a causal connection.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:59 PM on May 26, 2015 [37 favorites]


Haven't there been some correlations between lead poisoning and increased violent crime? I don't know how strong they are... but it would be interesting if there were also correlations with increased violence from police officers and training in ranges that are amongst the worst offenders.
posted by MysticMCJ at 3:00 PM on May 26, 2015 [10 favorites]


Indoor ranges are in fact bad juju, for a lot of reasons. But this is what you get when you make outdoor ranges difficult.
posted by corb at 3:01 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Please don't be nasty or wish harm on people. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:01 PM on May 26, 2015 [10 favorites]


Police agencies across the country have put their officers in harm’s way by using lead-polluted shooting ranges and by not educating them about safe practices.

C.f. the theory linking lead exposure to criminal violence

On preview, what everyone said.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:03 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


More on the Lead-Crime Hypothesis:
BBC
RationalWiki
Forbes
posted by zarq at 3:04 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


NIH: Lead Poisoning: symptoms include behavior problems and aggression, which are not so great traits to have when you also have an interest in and proficiency with guns.
posted by zippy at 3:05 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just a Bay Area thing? Publicly owned ranges here went through the wringer in the '90s over lead issues. I get my lead levels checked pretty regularly and have had no issues.

Part of the problem too is that the "public health" efforts are often thinly veiled attempts to make shooting sports expensive and unavailable. Given that bad faith, little wonder that there is knee jerk opposition. Having said that, if you're around guns enough, you'll eventually hear stories.
posted by wuwei at 3:05 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem too is that the "public health" efforts are often thinly veiled attempts to make shooting sports expensive and unavailable.

This, mostly. If there were good, inexpensive lead substitutes, we'd already be using them.
posted by corb at 3:07 PM on May 26, 2015


> But this is what you get when you make outdoor ranges difficult.

Outdoor ranges still see terrible levels of contamination, it's just not contained to the range. It can go into the soil and groundwater, get blown to surrounding areas (farms, yards, schools, watershed), and still cause health problems for the people who work there. Lead, whether in bullet or dust form, is not safe for living things.
posted by rtha at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2015 [28 favorites]


The closest thing is steel, which, of course, is illegal.
posted by switchbladenaif at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem too is that the "public health" efforts are often thinly veiled attempts to make shooting sports expensive and unavailable.

Another part of the problem is the assumption that shooting sports should be cheap and readily available with no regard for social consequences.
posted by Behemoth at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2015 [44 favorites]


Publicly, the National Rifle Association (NRA) dismisses contentions by health officials that lead is a widespread health and safety problem at shooting ranges.

Safe and responsible shooting requires wedging your head into a sand bank.
posted by Artw at 3:10 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lead poisoning: no longer just for condors and eagles!

Indoor ranges are in fact bad juju, for a lot of reasons. But this is what you get when you make outdoor ranges difficult.

Mmmmmmmperhaps you should just control the goddamn lead dust (or better still, stop manufacturing projectiles out of highly neurotoxic metals) rather than make a choice between poisoning the environment and poisoning your employees.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:11 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Ahem. Links between antisocial behavior and lead poisoning are from lead exposure in fetal development or early childhood. Several of the pages that people have linked to say exactly that, and that's the principle proposed mechanism for the correlation between leaded gasoline and paints vs. crime rates.

Unless you're presuming shooters or cops have been on the range since birth, I think we can dispense with that line of breathless speculation. This is horrible enough on its own.
posted by figurant at 3:13 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


corb: This, mostly. If there were good, inexpensive lead substitutes, we'd already be using them.

There are good lead substitutes available. They're not that much more expensive. Considering the health and environmental costs related to lead bullets, the price of copper ones shouldn't seem particularly high by comparison.
posted by zarq at 3:13 PM on May 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


I mean, we have alternatives for lead-based solder which work fabulously. Use of lead-based solder requires separate waste handling as hazardous material. Replacing lead is not that hard.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:16 PM on May 26, 2015


The NIH page I linked to above talked about adult as well as child exposure symptoms. Here's the Mayo Clinic breaking it down more explicitly for adults. Symptoms include "mood disorders, declines in mental functioning"
posted by zippy at 3:17 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


This cost comparison seems to be breaking down premium bullets vs premium bullets. The problem is that most people don't practice with expensive bullets unless they're serious shooters - it costs too damn much to gain and maintain proficiency. I'd be most interested in seeing the cheap vs cheap comparison.

And I'll tell you what: if you can convince me there are good, reasonably priced alternatives - particularly for reloading - I'll solidly commit to buying non-lead as often as I can.
posted by corb at 3:18 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem too is that the "public health" efforts are often thinly veiled attempts to make shooting sports expensive and unavailable.

This is something I've never heard before. Are there examples of such attempts that come to mind that I could familiarize myself with?
posted by burden at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


the price of copper ones shouldn't seem particularly high by comparison

What a waste of genuinely useful copper. The government seems to think depleted uranium bullets are safe and doesn't mind shooting people with them, so why not have gun owners use that, instead?
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


And I'll tell you what: if you can convince me there are good, reasonably priced alternatives - particularly for reloading - I'll solidly commit to buying non-lead as often as I can.

It isn't just the bullets/pellets. The primer caps also have a goodly amount of lead, and that is already in powder form. You should be taking extra precautions when reloading, too.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:24 PM on May 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


There's a huge problem with this on military firing ranges as well, especially for range personnel. Particularly since the DoD's response to state level regulation is .... minimal, and these ranges have been in operation for, some of them, over a century.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:24 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Two things: first, a major source of lead in the air at indoor ranges is from the primers, not the bullets. There are lead free primers, but they are not in common use, and don't work as well in my experience.
Second, It is hard to replace lead bullets on indoor ranges when most alternative metals are banned as "armor piercing" (regardless of performance against armor).
(i) a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium;

I agree, non lead alternatives would be nice. I have slightly elevated blood lead levels myself, although not enough that my doctor or I am concerned, and would love not to have to worry about it. But it's not in the cards as long as lead and copper are the only legal choices.
posted by switchbladenaif at 3:24 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Actually, if they reduced the ban on steel and other bullet types and allowed importation, there's a lot of cheap Russian ammo that would be able to hit the market and make it a easier choice for folks to make.

The whole 'armor-piercing' scare is honestly ridiculous, but good luck convincing any legislators of that.
posted by corb at 3:27 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I shoot a lot with air guns... I don't notice much difference in my accuracy using lead-free pellets, and I don't have to worry about a toxic metal all over my yard. Worth the (small) premium.
posted by Slap*Happy at 3:32 PM on May 26, 2015


switchbladenaif: Second, It is hard to replace lead bullets on indoor ranges when most alternative metals are banned as "armor piercing" (regardless of performance against armor).
(i) a projectile or projectile core which may be used in a handgun and which is constructed entirely (excluding the presence of traces of other substances) from one or a combination of tungsten alloys, steel, iron, brass, bronze, beryllium copper, or depleted uranium;


In the wild (not so much on a range,) the concern with non-lead solid bullets classed as "armor-piercing" is they tend to be more lethal and dangerous to hunters. They do not deform when they enter the target. Because of this, when they impact a target, animal or person, they typically pass through it rather than remain inside.

That also limits their usefulness to hunters, since the "mushrooming" effect of a bullet upon impact helps cause additional damage when it hits an animal, making it more likely to kill with a single shot. If a bullet passes through the body, it may wound but not kill.

Lastly, steel in particular is a very poor choice for bullets for use in hunting. It is so hard that it can degrade gun barrels. It can also conceivably spark if it hits a rock, which in some environments could cause a wildfire.
posted by zarq at 3:41 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem too is that the "public health" efforts are often thinly veiled attempts to make shooting sports expensive and unavailable.

cites? maybe three or four studies could get this assertion off the ground.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:42 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lastly, steel in particular is a very poor choice for bullets for use in hunting

Sure, but I'm talking specifically about target shooting - which is where I think you honestly shoot the most bullets of all. If you're hunting, you might hunt all day and only use ten bullets. If you're on a range, you could blow through a couple hundred bullets in an hour.
posted by corb at 3:44 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but you'd still have to deal with barrel degradation from the hardness of the bullet, especially at a couple of hundred an hour.
posted by zarq at 3:47 PM on May 26, 2015


Well, to be more specific, it's degradation to the rifling and the throat of the barrel.
posted by zarq at 3:49 PM on May 26, 2015


Yeah, but you'd still have to deal with barrel degradation from the hardness of the bullet, especially at a couple of hundred an hour.

This really isn't a concern. You still jacket the bullets with gilding metal. The steel or whatever else doesn't engage the rifling.
posted by switchbladenaif at 3:50 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem too is that the "public health" efforts are often thinly veiled attempts to make shooting sports expensive and unavailable

I think you meant to say that such efforts are seen as thinly veiled attempts. It's so hard to get environmental regulation through that it would be desperately foolish to try to do so for purely political reasons. I suppose it could happen, but it's a waste of political capital in a political environment which is fiercely antithetical to increases in environmental protection. (Witness Texas and Oklahoma passing laws to forbid towns from banning fracking...)

Particularly since the DoD's response to state level regulation is .... minimal

DOD, like other federal agencies, generally don't have to comply with state regulations on federal land, except under certain circumstances where EPA has delegated the authority to the state. The Army, at least, has been trying to clean up its ranges for the last 20 years, but it's crazy expensive and the land still ends up as useless for anything but training or some limited types of open space.

However if you're going to point fingers at public entities, I would point at private entities and local governments, which have far less money and expertise available to them in terms of conducting cleanups.

What I have seen is landowners being forced to clean up their outdoor ranges because the lead in the soil is contaminating wetlands and open water. That makes it a Clean Water Act issue, and it's a useful hammer for the regional water quality control board or the state.
posted by suelac at 3:51 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


switchbladenaif: You still jacket the bullets with gilding metal. The steel or whatever else doesn't engage the rifling.

Good point. Didn't think of that.
posted by zarq at 3:52 PM on May 26, 2015


Also there is no particular reason that a CuBe or brass or bronze hollow point couldn't perform as well as the copper hollow points on the market for hunting. I agree a soft point wouldn't work the way it does with lead.
posted by switchbladenaif at 3:54 PM on May 26, 2015


Yeah, but you'd still have to deal with barrel degradation from the hardness of the bullet, especially at a couple of hundred an hour.

You're probably thinking steel jacketed, rather than steel core. Honestly a common mixup and you're pretty on point with most of what you're talking about.
posted by corb at 3:59 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


metafilter: how to build a better bullet.
posted by bird internet at 4:03 PM on May 26, 2015


And beryllium copper? People are thinking of replacing a neurotoxic metal with one that's not only carcinogenic, but causes chronic lung disease with dust exposure? Shooting is getting more dangerous every day.
posted by sneebler at 4:05 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


I like shooting and have for many years. I've cast bullets and reloaded cartridges as well. I've also avoided indoor ranges and washed my hands compulsively and been very careful to keep children away from the whole process. But it is a worry. Many indoor ranges insist on lead free ammunition now. Lead free practice bullets for reloading are far more available. Lead free bullets for hunting (not something I do) have gotten very sophisticated.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:14 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


If a heavy, dense metal is what's needed, they could at least switch over to bismuth; it works for less-hazardous fishing sinkers, after all, and it's already available in shot shells.
posted by fifthrider at 5:12 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


An elementary school (built in 1952) in my town had an indoor shooting range in its lower floor. They didn’t close the range until 1995 (!!!), though it was due to health concerns.
posted by D.C. at 5:20 PM on May 26, 2015


Bismuth is about five times as expensive as lead. Physically it's a reasonable replacement, but economically it isn't.
posted by switchbladenaif at 5:22 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


For a variety of reasons, it might be more optimal to design the entire rifle & bullet casing around lead free bullets. Changes in material density are non-trivial problems for ammunition manufacturers and hand loaders as they change bullet length, barrel pressure, optimal barrel twist rate and whatever other internal ballistics factors I'm forgetting.

http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2011/10/17/handloading-lead-free-bullets/
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:34 PM on May 26, 2015


I've never had my lead levels checked, but I don't think I have ever shot at the scale it would take for serious poisoning, and I've never done any reloading or shot indoors more than a few times. I will ask my doctor at some point, though, since you never know for sure otherwise.

I've also lived in many places with lead paint, and remember the days of leaded gas. I'm glad we have improved those things, and improvements in shooting sports is a good idea as well. Indoor ranges have never seemed like a good idea, but I know that many urbanized places simply don't have public outdoor ranges, so indoor ranges are probably the only viable option for a significant percent of the population.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:38 PM on May 26, 2015


I genuinely do not understand this:
the concern with non-lead solid bullets classed as "armor-piercing" is they tend to be more lethal and dangerous to hunters. They do not deform when they enter the target. Because of this, when they impact a target, animal or person, they typically pass through it rather than remain inside.

That also limits their usefulness to hunters, since the "mushrooming" effect of a bullet upon impact helps cause additional damage when it hits an animal, making it more likely to kill with a single shot. If a bullet passes through the body, it may wound but not kill.


The so-called armor-piercing rounds are more dangerous to hunters, but less damaging to game animals? Please explain.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:39 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


The so-called armor-piercing rounds are more dangerous to hunters, but less damaging to game animals? Please explain.

I imagine it is because, since the bullet is more likely to go through a game animal, it may go through and hit a hunter who is behind the animal but not seen by the shooter.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:56 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


The so-called armor-piercing rounds are more dangerous to hunters, but less damaging to game animals? Please explain.

Stray rounds can be dangerous.

Normal rounds enter a target and are less likely to exit. The reason for this is their tips are softer and tend to mushroom inward and outward, which causes it to drag and get stuck. The slug, now with a larger footprint (so to speak) may then do additional damage to soft tissues while passing into and remaining inside the body.

So-called "armor-piercing" bullets usually do not deform when they hit soft tissues. If they are not deflected by a bone, they will carry their momentum in, through and often out of the body. Leaving an exit hole. Now, depending on where that hole is, if an animal is hit by an armor piercing bullet, the wound may not be fatal and the damage is done.

But let's consider the slug. It keeps going, slowing until either it hits another object or gravity, friction and inertia take hold completely.

Now let's say you're wearing standard body armor, on the far side of someone's prey. They fire a shot in your direction. It misses the animal but hits you. Or perhaps it somehow passes through some part of an animal and hits you at a reduced velocity. It will do more damage to you if it were armor-piercing than a lead bullet would simply because it is harder. It is more likely to pass through your body armor.

Admittedly, the 'through the animal and into another hunter' scenario is probably not all that likely. But having someone miss and hit someone else isn't unheard of. And if and when they do, you want to get hit by a bullet that armor will stop.

Make sense?
posted by zarq at 6:05 PM on May 26, 2015


BTW, it's been years since I even fired a gun. At least a couple of decades. And I've never fired armor-piercing bullets of any kind. So if any more knowledgeable person would like to correct my reasoning, please feel free. :)
posted by zarq at 6:07 PM on May 26, 2015


Of course, most hunters aren't wearing body armor, and especially not body armor that's rated to rifle calibers. A more plausible worst-case scenario would be overpenetrating and striking an occupied structure such as a house or shed. There's also the matter of ricochets to contend with.
posted by fifthrider at 6:11 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mild steel bullets (usually coated with copper or something) have been made for military expediency, in times of national emergency, because lead was short. These often go unused and eventually end up on the surplus market. Hardened steel cored bullets are made for machine guns to pierce light armor (airplanes or trucks, say). Regulators may have difficulty distinguishing between the two. They aren't useful for hunting. They do make regulators concerned about possible misuse. They definitely make gun nuts . . .nuts.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:13 PM on May 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


So, my takeaway from this thread is that we're a shit-show of a species and what the fuck are you even kidding me jesus christ.
posted by odinsdream at 6:14 PM on May 26, 2015 [26 favorites]


Lead in shot and bullets is interesting and yes, hazardous. It contaminates ground and water. However, it is generally in a solid form, and tends to form stable protective coatings in reaction to its environment.

The lead-related hazards that really come with gun sports are in the explosive components. The primers are likely lead styphnate, or occasionally lead azide, or a combination of both. The propellants are mostly going to be black powder, but with traces of various other lead-based compounds (like LMNR). The heat and pressure and friction of lead objects being fired through a cylinder will aerosolize particulates of lead as well.

Alternatives to lead in the explosives components aren't very attractive either. Mercury fulminate performs similar to lead styphnate, but then - hey- mercury.

And it's not like this is all a mystery to anyone. The dangers of lead have been known for centuries. The specifics, no. But Galen even mentioned it.

It seems to be a familiar form of tunnel vision going on here to look at all of the biological hazards of lead, and then say, "yeah, but, you know ... guns."
posted by yesster at 6:42 PM on May 26, 2015 [9 favorites]


What I'm getting at is this: I'm familiar with lead in multiple forms, and its hazards. To those of you who think that shooting things is more important than mitigating these hazards: please reconsider.
posted by yesster at 6:46 PM on May 26, 2015 [11 favorites]


Did the Roman Empire really fall because all the drinking water in Rome was delivered via lead pipes, eventually driving the citizenry to some variety of dementia? Yeah, that's not what my copy of Gibbon says either.

But it makes an interesting story, and it's amusing to imagine that some of the guns'n'bible Murricans are now pausing for thought.
posted by fredludd at 7:33 PM on May 26, 2015


I get that shooting and hunting is lots of fun. I get that, regrettably, soldiers and cops have to use bullets against other human beings.

But...are we really saying that lead poisoning, of the shooters, staff, and of the air and soil (and thus, the surrounding community) is a mere inconvenience next to the compelling necessity to be able to squeeze off a good, cheap satisfying round on a sunny afternoon? Truly? There is no other, less damaging way to scratch that itch, hobby shooters?
posted by emjaybee at 7:34 PM on May 26, 2015 [7 favorites]


corb: "Sure, but I'm talking specifically about target shooting - which is where I think you honestly shoot the most bullets of all. If you're hunting, you might hunt all day and only use ten bullets. If you're on a range, you could blow through a couple hundred bullets in an hour."

I've never shot anything but lead bullets but wouldn't the differing characteristics of lead and non lead bullets reduce or eliminate the benefits of practice with non lead bullets if you are using lead bullets for your actual hunting?
posted by Mitheral at 7:38 PM on May 26, 2015


Mitheral, if you're shooting hundreds of rounds, your biggest health hazard has very little to do with the composition of the projectiles.
posted by yesster at 7:44 PM on May 26, 2015


I recall first reading about this in the early 1980s. Supposedly there were regulations regarding lead shot put in place by the Carter administration, which were repealed when the Reagan administration came in.

Reagan also saved us from the metric system . . .
posted by rochrobbb at 7:45 PM on May 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lead-free, non-corrosive primers are available. Thanks to the insane right-wing, pro-pollution, anti-human component to the industry, you'll need to get them from Russian sources, even tho American companies pioneered them.

(The non-corrosive part is the key - Mercury and then Lead was used in these compounds as it made them shelf-stable without attacking the brass for decades. New heavy-metal-free explosive compounds are shelf-stable for 25 years or more, which may not please the preppers, but will work just swell at the range.)

Also, bismuth (expensive, but that could change with demand and new mining tech) and zinc (cheap, but considered inaccurate, perhaps barrels engineered for them could cure?) bullets, slugs and shot are a thing that home-loaders have been doing since the '70s.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:07 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


>The propellants are mostly going to be black powder

Pardon? Black powder has been a niche for historically minded hobbyists for close to 100 years. Modern propellant is, to simplify tremendously, nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose. It has nothing in common with black powder. Why would LMNR be in propellant? It detonates rather than deflagrates.

Some of this post was pretty spot on. You're right that the bullets themselves are not really a hazard to shooters (to maintenance workers, as in this article, is sometimes a different story) and that it is even less of a concern with completely jacketed/plated bullets that have no exposed lead, as there is no aerosolized lead produced in the barrel. Primers are the main lead hazard to shooters on indoor ranges. Modern primers are lead styphnate. Maybe you can find lead azide if you really dig; I wouldn't count on it. The alternative is not mercury fulminate. No one has used that in a century at least. DDNP is what's in modern lead free primers. It contains no heavy metals. It isn't very popular yet though, because, as I mentioned above, it is less reliable than lead based primers and more expensive.

I'm not sure about the takeaway though. Lead is dangerous, therefore people should stop shooting? The people most at risk for serious lead exposure through shooting are generally a lot more informed about that hazard than you're giving them credit for, at least in my experience. And a move towards lead free primers, which I expect to see over the next decade or so, will cut down the risk to everyone tremendously.
posted by switchbladenaif at 8:07 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


My State (Victoria ) banned lead shot in favour of bismuth a while ago, because of the danger to waterfowl. Hunters went wah wah wah, then adjusted and no one worries any more.
posted by wilful at 8:11 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


The people most at risk for serious lead exposure through shooting are generally a lot more informed about that hazard than you're giving them credit for, at least in my experience.

The experiences of many people in this series do not bear this out, though. They either don't know (like the coach of a school shooting team), or don't care (range owners who go OSHA? We don't need no stinking OSHA!).
posted by rtha at 8:37 PM on May 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


>The experiences of many people in this series do not bear this out, though. They either don't know (like the coach of a >school shooting team), or don't care (range owners who go OSHA? We don't need no stinking OSHA!).

That's fair. I have a lot of selection bias going on I'm sure, and I should have considered that before hitting post. I'm a grad student in a related field, and most of my shooting companions/acquaintances also work in related disciplines or else in the shooting field and are pretty plugged in. I and pretty much everyone I know who shoots seriously gets a blood lead level test between 2 and 4 times a year and keeps D-lead wipes in their range bag.
Someone like the shooting coach in the article absolutely needs to be informed. It's not reasonable for public ranges not to give information about lead exposure to patrons, especially not to frequent patrons like a team coach. Similarly, I think that public ranges should be held to high standards for air circulation and should ban ammo with exposed lead, and probably mandate lead free primers. Probably I should have put this upfront; I was just a bit irked by a few parts of the discussion and so addressed them rather than laying my position out.
posted by switchbladenaif at 9:11 PM on May 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, we have alternatives for lead-based solder which work fabulously.

Do they? I remember a lot of angst about tin whiskers and solder joints being more brittle and susceptible to cracking with lead free a few years back. I still use good old 60/40 for home stuff and would love to switch off if I won't have to open a project up and rework it a few years down the road.
posted by mcrandello at 10:53 PM on May 26, 2015


I've never shot anything but lead bullets but wouldn't the differing characteristics of lead and non lead bullets reduce or eliminate the benefits of practice with non lead bullets if you are using lead bullets for your actual hunting?

Sooooort of yes, soooort of no.

So a good example: my husband is a much more Serious Shooter than me - he's hoping to get good enough to be a competition shooter. He uses not just the same bullets of the same metal composition in the rifle he uses for competition-practicing, but also the same bullets with the same measurement of grains of powder - much more precise. This, combined with other features of his firearm, allow for pretty ridiculous accuracy, which I salute. He can consistently hit rounds that will all fall in a circle the size of a dime at the 300 meter target, and is working at getting better. He has a shooter's notebook to measure every condition of the weather and himself for each shot he takes, to consistently strive to get better. My husband will only practice - at least on that rifle - with the one kind of bullet, so he doesn't throw himself off.

I am a shooter who came from the military side of the house. I'm a pretty decent shot - but I 'grew up' aiming for center mass. My rifle is good, but not scary good. I do not carefully consider which ammunition I am using - I am working on my general accuracy rather than the insanely detailed. My circle is also tight, but about the size of a half-dollar at the same range, rather than a dime. It is good enough for government work - and also, really, good enough for hunting unless you're getting fancy - but I am not striving for high enough accuracy every single time that the composition of the bullet matters quite as much. So I could conceivably shoot different (cheap) bullets on the range than the ones I would be shooting hunting, as long as I threw in a couple of the regular hunting bullets to check that they weren't significantly far off.

And honestly, this kind of thing is pretty common. Frex, I do this for self-defense practice - when I take my .380 out, I use super cheap bullets because I just want to get handgun practice in (it's not my strongest weapon) - but the load that would go in for actual use would be Critical Defense. Most people I know just don't want to waste the money of shooting really expensive bullets at the range.
posted by corb at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2015


zarq - Normal rounds enter a target and are less likely to exit. The reason for this is their tips are softer and tend to mushroom inward and outward, which causes it to drag and get stuck. The slug, now with a larger footprint (so to speak) may then do additional damage to soft tissues while passing into and remaining inside the body.

I thought that damage was caused by the pressure wave or gas expansion inside the body. Whether or not the bullet stays inside the target seems trivial in comparison. Is that not the case?
posted by asok at 9:28 AM on May 27, 2015


Whether or not the bullet stays inside the target seems trivial in comparison.

It's a proxy for how much of the KE of the bullet is transferred.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:06 AM on May 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


In the wild (not so much on a range,) the concern with non-lead solid bullets classed as "armor-piercing" is they tend to be more lethal and dangerous to hunters. They do not deform when they enter the target. Because of this, when they impact a target, animal or person, they typically pass through it rather than remain inside.

That also limits their usefulness to hunters, since the "mushrooming" effect of a bullet upon impact helps cause additional damage when it hits an animal, making it more likely to kill with a single shot. If a bullet passes through the body, it may wound but not kill.


I only hunt with copper rounds. I don't want to eat lead and I sure do not want my young son eating lead. Copper does mushroom. The bullets aren't like FMJs that give you clean pass-throughs. They are designed to transfer kinetic energy and they do it well. What they don't do is shed little particles of metal through the wound path. They hold their weight well. This does lead to the more than occasional pass-through, but I have never seen a well placed shot result in a wounding. And a poorly placed lead shot would wound just the same as a copper shot.

Is copper the best choice? Probably not. But there is a small contingent of hunters out there (even in the black powder community) who want more choices and legislation to protect the environment, the shooters and the people who workin the industry.
posted by Seamus at 10:27 AM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've never shot anything but lead bullets but wouldn't the differing characteristics of lead and non lead bullets reduce or eliminate the benefits of practice with non lead bullets if you are using lead bullets for your actual hunting?

Coming from a different POV than Corb, there is a difference but hunters often do use lead to sight in a rifle and then fine-tune with the round with which they will hunt.

If I have a rifle that I have just put a scope on, I can use a laser sighter to adjust the scope to the point of aim of the barrel. If I do not have a laser pointer, I can assume that my shot will fall somewhere within a 2 foot circle at 50 yards and a 4 foot circle at 100 yards (roughly, from experience). Each cartridge will react differently. When you purchase rounds, you do it by manufacturer, bullet weight and bullet style. I can take a newly scoped rifle to the range and dial in the scope using, say, 30 rounds. If I use my copper hunting ammunition, that will cost me 60 dollars in ammo plus range fees; $2 per shot. If I purchase a lead ammo from the same manufacturer using a bullet of the same weight, I can assume they are using the same or similar propellant and that the bullet drop over distance will be similar. I can shoot the first 20 rounds at $1 a shot followed by 10 copper rounds at $2 a shot and spend $40 in ammo. That might not sound like a lot, but when that rifle will have maybe 20 rounds put through it while hunting over the next 5 years, the savings are important. That $20 means I will be able to practice more with the gun and maintain my ability to hit what I am aiming at. (Yeah, I know that $20 may not be much to many people, but it is to me.)
posted by Seamus at 10:52 AM on May 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


fredludd: "Did the Roman Empire really fall because all the drinking water in Rome was delivered via lead pipes, eventually driving the citizenry to some variety of dementia? Yeah, that's not what my copy of Gibbon says either."

I love Gibbon, but I think there have been developments in the field since 1776.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:40 PM on May 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, like finding out lead acetate was added to wine.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:09 PM on May 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


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