Do cars and clothes bring lead exposure home?

"This is a completely preventable problem from a public health point of view," says Carrie A. Redlich. (Credit: jontibell/Flickr)

People who use firearms for work or recreation may be at risk of toxic lead exposure, according to a new study.

The researchers became concerned when they started to see an increasing number of patients with high lead levels related to firearm use.

In one case evaluated at the Yale Occupational and Environmental medicine clinic, a 28-year-old man was referred to the clinic by the local health department for evaluation after his 1-year-old son was found to have a markedly elevated blood-lead level detected during a routine pediatric screening.

As no source of lead such as lead paint or pipes was found in the home, his father was tested and found to also have an elevated blood lead level. He was a maintenance worker at an indoor shooting range and cared for his son in lead-contaminated clothing after returning from work.

In other cases, children were most likely exposed to lead via lead dust contamination—carried home from the shooting rage—in family vehicles.

The other cases evaluated by the researchers involved a firearms instructor, salesman, shop owner, and two US veterans. All had elevated levels of lead not attributed to any other source of lead. “Every one of them practiced target shooting, or were around others who shot guns, most commonly in indoor firing ranges,” says Carrie A. Redlich, the clinic director.

[Lead paint may still lurk on the porch]

While the cause of the rise is not known, it is probably due to a combination of state educational outreach, an increased awareness of the risks of lead exposure from shooting, and increased exposure, notes Redlich.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to contact with even low levels of lead, which is associated with increased risk for neurologic, cardiovascular, renal, and reproductive health problems.

“This is a completely preventable problem from a public health point of view,” says Redlich. Lead-free ammunition is one solution being explored by the US Army, for example, and the state of California is implementing a ban on lead ammunition for all hunting.

Additionally, clinicians should inquire about the use of guns in patients found to have elevated lead levels and consider testing family members, especially children, the authors note.

The findings appear in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Source: Yale University