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Surprising Source of High Lead Levels

Marauding Huns. Invading Visigoths. What really caused the fall of Rome? Some historians suggest it wasn’t outsiders, but lead poisoning. Lead was used extensively in the upper classes’ plumbing, utensils and even makeup. And the aristocracy suffered from poor decision-making, erratic behavior, a low birth rate and early death -- all symptoms of lead poisoning.

Today, a new source of lead poisoning in the U.S. is menacing the 19 million folks who go to indoor shooting ranges annually. When fired, lead-based bullets and primers shed a cloud of toxins. Poor sanitation and inadequate ventilation let lead dust hang in the air and settle on surfaces, contaminating workers and shooters. The dust also settles on range-visitors’ skin, clothing, hair and car interiors. It’s then transported home where it exposes family members to dangerous levels.

There are around 16,000 to 18,000 indoor firing ranges in the United States. But only 201 were inspected over the past decade, according a report from the Washington state newspaper The Columbian. That explains the more than 2,000 police and firing range workers who were found to have elevated blood lead levels from 2002 to 2012. Almost 3,000 more folks were also affected, just by visiting ranges.

So before you spend time in a range, ask how often they clean their HEPA air filters and wash down the entire area, and if any workers have ever tested positive for elevated lead levels. If they cannot assure you the area is clean and safe, shoot right out of there.