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Lead overexposure concern in the local area

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- When people hear of lead overexposure, most think of children exposed to contaminated toys and old paint. Some people may also think of industrial workers who handle hazardous chemicals.

However, a potential lead poisoning threat also exists in some of the hobbies we enjoy. One hobby, in particular, may be putting you at higher risk. You may be getting exposed to concerning levels of lead at small indoor firing ranges in our surrounding area.

You can get lead poisoning from breathing in or ingesting lead particles that are aerosolized when firing ammunition containing lead. After a bullet leaves the muzzle of a gun, gases containing lead particulates are expelled forward, making it easy to breathe in or settle on clothing and skin.

With proper ventilation, the amount of lead inhaled is greatly reduced. In a large scale firing range, such as the one on base, workplace practices and structure designs are governed by OSHA regulations.

These guidelines require equipment (such as ventilation systems) that helps eliminate the inhalation of lead. However, in small-scale firing ranges, OSHA guidelines do not apply. The state does not have jurisdiction in small facilities to enforce equipment use that can reduce lead exposure. This means your risk for inhalation or ingestion can be much greater.

Even though these facilities are not required to have the equipment or structures governed by OSHA, you can still go to these ranges and protect yourself.

The important thing to remember is the particulates are a hazard if they are ingested or inhaled. Make sure you wash your hands, forearms and face after handling ammunition or shooting. Wash your hands before eating, drinking or smoking. This prevents the ingestion of lead dust that may be on your skin. Some characteristics of this hazard allow it to be carried home to unsuspecting family members.

Even in low concentrations, lead exposure is very dangerous to infants and young children. To prevent this transmission, always change your clothes upon leaving the firing range, shower as soon as you get home, and wash your contaminated clothes separately from non-contaminated clothes.

Although you cannot do much about the ventilation systems in the facility, you can take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. It is important to be on the lookout for lead sickness. Some of the signs and symptoms of lead overexposure are nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, headaches and abdominal pain. Overexposure in adults can lead to reproductive, digestive, muscle/joint and kidney pain/problems.

Overexposure in children can lead to brain/nervous system damage, vision/motor skill impairment, headaches and hearing problems. In severe cases, lead overexposure can lead to convulsions, coma and death. If you or a loved one uses the local, small indoor ranges and are experiencing some of these above symptoms, contact your assigned primary care provider to get evaluated.

You can find more information about lead overexposure at the site listed below at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead or by contacting Public Health at (660) 975-6942.