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Take Aim at Protecting Yourself

Posted on by Chucri A. Kardous, MS, PE

Solutions for Preventing Lead Poisoning and Hearing Loss at Indoor Firing Ranges

three men aiming guns in a firing rangeIf you work or train regularly at indoor firing ranges, you could be exposed to hazardous levels of lead and noise. An estimated 16,000–18,000 indoor firing ranges operate in the United States. Some do not have sufficient environmental and occupational health controls in place to effectively protect the health of shooters and firing range personnel from exposure to lead (from lead bullets and cartridge primers), noise, and other contaminants. Those at risk include thousands of employees at indoor firing ranges, more than a million Federal, State, and local law officers who are required to train regularly at these facilities, and 20 million active target shooters.

NIOSH recently issued a new Alert, Preventing Occupational Exposures to Lead and Noise at Indoor Firing Ranges. The Alert presents five case reports that document lead and noise exposures and examines firing range operations, exposure assessment and control methods, existing regulations, and exposure standards and guidelines.

Lead exposure

Numerous factors and routes of exposure can contribute to workers’ and patrons’ exposures to lead at indoor firing ranges. Environmental factors include the type of ventilation system used at the firing range, the types of ammunition used, and the length of time that shooting occurs. Exposure risk factors include the type and frequency of work practices conducted at the range, particularly those involving cleaning the firing range and other maintenance activities. At indoor firing ranges, lead dust from firearms discharge can be inhaled or contaminate surfaces and then transferred to people’s skin, especially the hands. Lead from the hands can be ingested while handling food, beverages, and other items that contact the mouth. Elevated blood lead levels can lead to lead poisoning. Symptoms of lead poisoning include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Excessive lethargy or hyperactivity
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Kidney problems

In addition, lead poisoning, neurological effects, and mental retardation have occurred in children of workers who bring lead home on their clothes, skin, or other surfaces.

In one case study of law enforcement trainees described in the Alert, blood lead levels at an indoor firing range rose from a pre-training mean of 6.5 µg/dL to 50.4 µg/dL post training. Mean airborne lead concentrations were more than 40 times the OSHA permissible exposure limit. After changes were made to the ventilation system, airborne lead concentrations dropped to below detectable levels. In addition, using ammunition that had nylon-coated and copper-jacketed bullets substantially reduced (94% to 97%) airborne lead concentrations.

Detailed recommendations for employers and workers are available in the Alert. Controlling exposures to occupational hazards is the fundamental method of protecting workers. Traditionally, NIOSH uses a hierarchy of controls to reduce or eliminate workplace hazards:

  1. Elimination of the hazard
  2. Substitution of a less hazardous material
  3. Engineering controls
  4. Administrative controls (to reduce time of exposure)
  5. Personal protective equipment

Proper ventilation, good housekeeping practices, and basic personal hygiene practices will limit or eliminate the risk of lead exposure. Examples of NIOSH recommendations for workers include the following:

  • Wear respirators and full protective outer clothing when performing range maintenance.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection when using chemicals to clean weapons or firing range surfaces.
  • Wash hands, forearms, and face before eating, drinking, smoking, or contact with other people.
  • Change clothes and shoes before leaving the firing range facilities.
  • Wash clothes or uniforms used at the firing range separately from family’s clothing.

Noise exposure

The discharge of firearms in an indoor firing range produces peak noise levels that exceed the occupational health limits of 140 dB SPL. NIOSH recommends that workers and shooters who use a firing range as part of their occupation (i.e, law enforcement officers) wear double hearing protection (earplugs and earmuffs) as part of an overall hearing conservation program. Special attention must be paid to the use of safety glasses under earmuffs so not to create an acoustical leak and degrade the performance of the hearing protectors.

Exposure to high levels of noise can lead to the following:

  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear, which might be permanent)
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Gastro-intestinal problems
  • Chronic fatigue

NIOSH would like to hear from you regarding your experiences working or training at indoor firing ranges. What prevention methods do you or your employer take? What has worked? What has not worked? Would you be interested in receiving more information or review other products from NIOSH on indoor firing ranges? More information is available in the NIOSH Alert and on the NIOSH Indoor Firing Ranges topic page.

Mr. Kardous is a research engineer in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Posted on by Chucri A. Kardous, MS, PE

51 comments on “Take Aim at Protecting Yourself”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Yes, I would like you to send me more information on the above topic.

    I recently retired from the State of Connecticut Dept. of Correction in 2006. While empolyed as a Correctional Officer, one of my details was working as a Firearms Instructor. I was employed for over 18 years, and have used both indoor and outdoor ranges. I also was assigned as Firearms Instructor for our CERT Team (Correction Emegency Response Team), which I was also a member for over 18 years.

    I now work part time for two different law enforcement agencies. In both agencies, I also working as a firearms instructor, and use both indoor and outdoor ranges. It has been my experience that both indoor and outdoor ranges have their own individual hazard to health.

    I am currently the Firearms Coordinator for Nevada and utilize an outdoor range. We have 20 traps and the projectiles are trapped via a 3 gallon bucket. There are 20 buckets for the 20 traps and periodically have to change them.

    We also use a leaf blower to blow off debris that forms on the steel portion of the traps as well as the concrete in front of the traps.

    I would be interested in any suggestions as to how we can safely remove the buckets from the traps and properly dispose of the projectiles. Also, any comments as to our current use of the leaf blower and debris removal from the range.

    Additionally, at the end of the range we drag the dirt with a make shift rake behind a truck. The rack is an 8ft section of chain link fence. This kicks up considerable amounts of dust.

    We have several recommendations in the Alert document for dealing with lead removal and cleaning that may apply to your situation. It’s hard to make recommendations without assessing the range and surrounding areas, but I would strongly suggest you discontinue using the leaf blower and raking the dirt for the obvious reasons you mentioned (kicking off lead dust and contaminating the area, equipment, and personnel), unless you have a dedicated cleaning and maintenance staff equipped with the appropriate personal protection equipment and you have a proper safety program in place.

    EPA has published the Best management practices for lead at outdoor shooting ranges, which should be helpful in providing you with guidance.

    You may also want to consider contacting a health and safety consultant. Additionally, you may want to look into the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program. Information on the HHE Program is available on the NIOSH website.

    How is this health information made available to ranges and personnel. Is there a comprehensive list of all ranges (pulic, private, law enforcement and government).

    We have worked with several stakeholders in the law enforcement, military, and recreational communities to distribute our research products, including the Alert mentioned above. At present, there’s no one compiled and comprehensive list of all firing ranges in the United States. Some of our stakeholders include Federal, state, and some local law enforcement agencies who operate and maintain their own ranges. Each of these agencies and ranges can be reached separately. In addition, the National Association of Shooting Ranges and the National Rife Association Headquarters provide lists of their member ranges.

    The Alert document includes a summary sheet that can be torn and posted at firing ranges. Other than distributing the documents and information directly to law enforcement agencies and range associations, we are trying to reach the rest of these ranges (and their operators) through direct mailings, our website, Wikipedia, and postings like you see on this blog.

    How affective is the hearing protection for inpact noise. Is it evaluated on continuous noise basis?

    We recommend using double hearing protection for impact noise (see recommendations on page 19 of the Alert document). We have conducted several studies on the effectiveness of hearing protector devices against impact/impulse type of noise, and depending on the hearing protector and how it was used, peak reductions ranged from 10 to 50 dB. See our health hazard evaluation that examined the variety of hearing protectors.

    It seems to me that even with a 47 dB reduction from double hearing protection that with some weapons showing a dB above 165 that OSHA noise standards are very quickly exceeded. I do know that [company name removed] has treated numerous ranges for the CIA, Navy and the Air Force and is currently doing comprehensive evaluation of noise levels of several of these ranges using sophisticated sound measuring/recording equipment developed for the recording industry of both before and after treatment with their patented noise panels. I am told that they have effectively reduced reverb time from 6+ seconds to less that 1.25 seconds and that the reduction in noise level and reverb is dramatic. NIOSH may wish to contact them for more information.

    NIOSH recently participated in a pre-treatment evaluation of an indoor firing range. We worked with a contractor that will be applying noise treatments to the ceiling and walls of a 2-lane and 21-lane firing range. Reverberation time measurements have been made before the treatments are applied to the range. We expect to conduct comparable reverberation time measurements post-treatment. The effect of noise attenuation materials should reduce the reverberation time and lower the noise exposure due to reverberant energy.

    William Murphy, Ph.D. is the co-leader of the Hearing Loss Prevention Team in the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology

    In the case of Wilson vs Riverside Shooting Inc.2007 Riverside, California

    It appears that the County Hazmat Unit and Cal/Osha both failed equally to protect employees and customers from reoccuring violations of this indoor shooting range. The violations that were reoccuring range from using stolen EPA and county Hazmat Permit numbers and not following up to insure that proper permits were obtained and that ventalation systems were upgraded to modern day specs. In this case,the children of one of the employees was diagnosed with Lead Poisoning first through routine tests for school enrollment. The cause was from “take home” lead exposure that contamiated the employee’s home and vehicles and the whole is now on Medical Surveillance by the state of California.

    Bottom line,if it were not for children being involved,Cal/Osha would never have launched an investigation into this case at all. A message needs to be sent that this way of thinking doesm’t fly when it comes to people’s lives who work in these areas of employment. A system of checks and balances must be started today and should have been started 20 years ago or more.Why must children pay the heavy price of neglect by our local,county and state governments and of course, those employers who think they have found loopholes in our laws.

    Thanks for giving information about Shooting Ranges. You really have a good blog for sharing information with others.

    While hearing is not a common health and safety concern in a computerized workplace, it should not be ignored. Some pieces of office equipment can be quite loud, especially to those situated near them. Also, those taking dictation or on the phone a good portion of the day could experience some strain in the ears. Keeping office equipment away from work areas, switching the phone from ear to ear periodically, and keeping dictation volume as low as possible should help ease the concerns. Thanks a lot blogger for such a nice post about hearing loss at work place.

    :-)
    Keep blogging
    [http://justblogme.com/workworkwork/278145/Be+Safe+from+Hearing+Loss+Problem+at+Workplaces.html]

    While I am not a law enforcement officer, as a sportsman, I am sensitive to both exposure to dangerous lead and sound levels at indoor and outdoor firing ranges.

    Being from the Chicago area, one of the indoor firing ranges in Cook County that I used to frequent did not provide hearing protection for the shooters. Over the years, the range finally shut down because of local political pressure and the rotten conditions in the range. In a way, I was happy the range did close up shop because the clientele was not very typical for firearm enthusiasts.

    Since then, I joined an outdoor range that has been around for decades–strictly skeet. A few years back, they no longer allowed lead shot because the grounds were severely polluted.

    I am glad to see that someone is taking notice to an overlooked hazard. We use a “Lead Vacuum” during clean up to control the lead exposure and also wear a 3M respirator with P100 filters for added protection. Along with this we wear disposable gloves and Tyvek suits with attached boots. No need to wear your contaminated clothes home and expose your entire family to the hazard.

    Hygenall Corporation makes products that are under license from the NIOSH/CDC for removing lead from skin and surfaces, for example, Hygenall FieldWipes, and Hygenall LeadOff, are non-rinse wipes that remove lead.

    These products were invented because products that are on the market today that claim to remove toxic metals are not very effective, and neither is soap and water. Firing a handgun can deposit between 1,000ug’s to 1,500ug’s of lead on forearms, hands and face.

    Firing ranges are covered with large amounts of unseen lead dust. It takes only a tiny bit, an invisible amount, to poison a child, in fact, one of the largest sources of lead to children, are their parents.

    If you’re suffering from hearing related problems and are looking for an alternative to expensive hearing aids or surgery you may want to look into natural treatments for hearing loss. Hearing Loss Treatment can help you. New research shows that certain supplements, vitamins, minerals and herbs can be used effectively to improve hearing.

    We use Hygenall FieldWipes to clean down after shooting and reloading. We use it clean our equipment too. Why doesnt the EPA, OSHA, or NIOSH reccomend the use of this product or others like it? They still reccomend soap and water! Our group tested before and after for lead dust, and nothing was left. We tested with soap and water, and there was a lot of lead left.

    Thank you for your comment. Page 4 of the Alert referenced above states “NIOSH research shows that washing hands with soap and water is not completely effective in removing lead (and other toxic metals) from the surface of the skin [NIOSH 1992b; NIOSH 1996; NIOSH 1999]. To remove lead from skin, NIOSH researchers recently developed and patented a highly effective skin decontamination/cleansing method [Esswein and Boeniger 2005]” NIOSH recommends the use of this method to reduce the risks of lead exposures after firing weapons. The method has been licensed by CDC/NIOSH.

    (Response edited from its original form on 7/5/11)

    I would like to know the source for the author’s estimate of 16,000 to 18,000 indoor ranges operating in the United States? I am also interested in a source for the number of outdoor ranges in operation as well. Do you know where I might obtain trend data for range facilties for the past 5-10 years?

    The estimate came from a 1984 CDC MMWR Report (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00000142.htm) which was based on internal NIOSH data that included all private and commercial indoor firing ranges as well as those operated by local, State, and Federal law enforcement departments and agencies. NIOSH is in the process of updating that estimate. In addition, we are also trying to compile data to provide an estimate on the number of outdoor firing ranges. As far as trend data, we suggest you contact the National Shooting Sport Foundation (NSSF.org) for such information.

    Yes please send me anything on the topic of lead and noise in indoor ranges!

    Recently, we built an indoor range! We contracted to have the ventilation built by an outside contractor with experience in indoor range ventilation systems. We wanted a laminar floor to ceiling wall to wall system that could meet the OSHA guidelines of less than 50ug per M3 of air over a time weighted period of 8 hours. We hired a contractor that had many systems under his belt with good references! Anyway, the system was installed and tested 3 separate times by the contractor to the NIOSH 7300/OSHA 125G; ICPMS. Finally on the last test the system came into specification, so he said! The ventilation design was one of diffused air ducts mounted on the ceiling in a quarter round fashion! After the testing we could still feel air flowing up range towards the shooter and we were still getting that sweet taste of lead. We hired an outside certified hygienists to test the range again at the previous passing flow setup, using the same NOISH test methodology! What we found was unacceptable. The Range safety officer air sample was extremely high, better than ten times the OSHA guidelines. So we removed the ceiling diffusers and scraped them. The new design is a one of a kind air wall diffuser custom designed and built. After completion and balancing the system we then hired the same hygienists back in and run the test again at 50FPM! The results were amazing! Most air sample measurements were non-measurable one air sample was less than 2ug per M3 of air over TWA of 8 hours. This sample was taken over a 4 hour period of time and this 2ug sample had an H&K MP5 automatic in the shooting booth, which is not normal for the this range.

    My suggestion from this experience is never let the contractor test the ventilation system. Always, specify the OSHA guidelines in the design.

    Never be satisfied with that ” is good enough”! Hire a reportable ventilation contractor! Be sure to specify it must pass the OSHA guidelines in the low 1 to 10ug range using the NIOSH 7300 test method.

    Hire an outside Certified Industrial Hygienists to do the testing.

    We now have one of the every few “state of the art” indoor ranges that meets and exceed the OSHA specification for Air Quality concerning lead contamination.

    I would be interested in hearing from anyothers on their ventilation and Noise preventive measures in regard to Indoor shooting ranges!

    In addition, people working in handling and processing discarded electronic boards, computer mother boards, for example, are directly exposed to dangerous chemicals including lead.

    Creating sufficient awareness and developing stringent guidelines to prevent massive medical burden the government should shoulder over a period, is in order.

    Mike Erwin, I am working on an indoor range design now and would be very interested in speaking to you regarding your range and the issues you noted in your post. Could you contact me at [address].

    Sure I would be happy to relate our experience with you! If you are building a commercial venture you want to be sure to do everything in your power to be as close to maintenance free as possible! The one area of concern will be your ventilation system! It is possible to meet and exceed the OSHA PEL specifications with the correct design!

    Mike –

    Im trying to find out what decibal level changes from single hearing protection to double hearing protection. Thanks

    We found that using single hearing protection provided the user anywhere from 10-30 dB of peak reduction of sound levels at the ear canal. Using double-hearing protection added anywhere from 15-20 dB. Please see our graph on page 27 of this HHE report for more information. It is important to note that peak reduction itself may not protect the shooter/user from high-intensity noise levels. The environment, how well the hearing protectors are worn (whether with safety glasses or not), the type of impulse noise generated, among some other factors, all contribute to how the ear reacts to impulse noise.

    Dear Sir, I am a U.S. Air Force Vet. In 1994 I was active duty at Luke AFB serving as a Combat Arms Instructor. We had an indoor range with a defective backstop and it was found that myself and one other individual had over 3 times the OSHA limit for blood lead. After treatment I was discharged from active duty in 1995 and I have been suffering health issues since then. I need some help from someone in locating proof that the exposure occured. Thank you for your time. Scean

    Thank you for submitting a post to our blog. I’m not sure how NIOSH can help you identify if an exposure has occurred or not, but if you have documentation showing that your blood lead levels were 3x higher than the OSHA limit, then that should be more than enough. You didn’t specify what health issues you’ve been having, but you can check our webpages on the health effects from exposure to lead:
    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/lead/WorkerInfo.html
    http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/TF.asp?id=93&tid=22

    At NIOSH, we typically ask firearms instructors if they come into contact with spent bullets, how often they train their shooters, the size of the firing range, how well is it ventilated and maintained, was air recirculated into the range or not, as we try to determine their overall exposure. Some lead exposures can be treated and resolved, but some exposures may cause lifetime health complications as may be the case here. It would also be important to find out if the Luke AFB safety and health office required any repairs or modifications to the backstop and the range and after they discovered the elevated blood levels.

    As a private citizen and certified instructor, I have over the years regularly trained at both indoor and outdoor ranges. Indoors I use almost exclusively copper-jacketed ammunition; sometimes at outdoor ranges I use unjacketed lead (when shooting metal silhouette, to prevent ricochet). For the most part, indoor ranges I have used have good ventilation systems which incorporate filters to remove particulate matter. My usual hearing protection consists of electronic headphones which allow normal conversation but block damaging sound levels; I find these to be sufficient. Last year I was hearing-tested for my (boat) captains’ license, and my hearing levels are near normal (I’m also a professional musician!). I make it a practice to thoroughly wash my hands immediately after packing up the gun(s) after a session, as well as after cleaning them, and instruct my students to do likewise. I emphasize this, as it’s the best way to prevent lead poisoning when handling firearms.

    Is there any information on health hazards associated with water-based ultrasonic weapons cleaning systems? I do realize the organic solvent based systems create hazardous aerosols and skin absorption issues, but what about the water based systems? Is lead from cleaning the weapon aerosolized along with the cleaning agent? Is there any other hazards?

    NIOSH has not conducted research on water-based ultrasonic weapons cleaning systems. We will forward your questions to some of our aerosol experts to see if they have any suggestions for you. Others with experience in this subject are welcome to comment.

    We incorporated the new Hygenall Decon stations in September outside the doors of our firing range classrooms and on the range, plus we changed all of the soap in the bathrooms to Hygenall Leadoff, and we are already seeing a difference both in lead tests on the desk surfaces, and in the student dorm rooms.

    Note: References to product names do not constitute an endorsement of any commercial product by NIOSH or the U.S. government.
    Thank you for posting your success story. We would be interested in learning more details about your experience and would like to see the results if possible. Please contact me directly at ckardous@cdc.gov.

    I am on process of constuction of an indoor shooting range with 8 lanes, i am interested to know what materials are the best isolation of walls, floor and ceiling for noise absorbance and also for antiricochet. Your suggestion are mostly welcomed, and i am very happy that i found this blog, it is very helpfull. Many thanks to all and kindest regards

    According to this article:
    “In addition, using ammunition that had nylon-coated and copper-jacketed bullets substantially reduced (94% to 97%) airborne lead concentrations.”
    Why don’t we just require indoor shooting ranges to use only copper jacketed ammo? Is this enough to make this a non-issue?

    Thank you for your comment, Mike. Ammunition substitution is at the top of our “NIOSH hierarchy of controls” recommendations to limit lead exposure from ammunition used in firing ranges. It also makes sense economically – the savings to firing range operators in terms of ventilation systems’ maintenance and operation costs would be tremendous! There are several ranges that are starting to adopt such an approach; if you have a twitter account, we just tweeted about these new types of ranges (https://twitter.com/NIOSH_FirRanges) or you can check the direct link http://chatsworth.patch.com/articles/eco-friendly-indoor-firing-range-set-to-open-in-chatsworth for an article about an eco-friendly range that requires shooters to fire copper and tin “green” bullets only. To answer your question though, NIOSH is primarily an occupational safety and health research agency. NIOSH does not have the regulatory authority to set a standard that would require use of copper jacketed ammunition. It is up to the range operators/owners and manufacturers to recognize the greater safety and economic benefits of such a strategy and voluntarily implement the policy.

    I was at an indoor range last weekend which seemed to have little or no ventilation, as it both tasted of the sweet smell of lead and when I left my face, glasses and the inside of my nose were absolutely coated in black powder. Other than going somewhere else (which benefits me but doesn’t protect anyone else), what can a “consumer” do to ensure places like that are in compliance with the appropriate regulations? Thanks.

    Although NIOSH’s focus is on occupational exposures and not recreational shooting, this is an issue that may be of great concern to workers or to the range manager or master if that range employs such a person. Do they have range masters or instructors? Have they voiced concerns to their management? As a “customer”, are you able to inquire about the status of the ventilation system with the management of the range? It may be a simple issue of overloaded filters that just need to be replaced or a fan that became not operational and needs to be fixed or replaced. We have several documents that may be helpful to shooters, workers, and the range management. Our Workplace Solutions document (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2010-113/) is a short and concise document with specific and practical recommendations that may be very useful to just hand out to the management (or you can call us at 800-CDC-INFO and we can send you several copies to pass around). There is additional information that may also be helpful on our firing range topic page (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ranges/). Workers at the range may be able to request NIOSH’s assistance through the NIOSH health hazard evaluation program (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe/).

    Best solution is to install steel reinforced fans in the shooters area and have the vents leading outside, expelling the toxic gases from the lead and making the area more safe. Of course, that’s just a suggestion..

    Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me! I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

    Are workers who are active around exhaust ventilation of indoor shooting ranges at risk for lead exposure, or do the ventilation systems work well enough to protect them.

    Properly installed and maintained ventilation systems should effectively remove all lead particulate from the air through mechanical filtration, but caution is always warranted when working in and around exhaust outlets. If a worker is going to be active around the exhaust outlets for extended periods of time, we recommend that they wear NIOSH-certified respiratory protection and full protective outer clothing.

    Thanks for giving information about shooting range. And now Iam more understand about how to prevent shooting noise from shooting ranges.

    I am (was) a shooting instructor at a brand new indoor shooting range in northern CA. After a month an a half my BLL level was 11.2 micro,g and at just over two months my BLL was 17.0 micro,g. I have been feeling horrible and my employer even demoted my for listlessness and said I wasn’t my normal peppy self.. go figure. Now I am out of a job and still haven’t seen a doctor who know anything about lead poisoning.

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