Question about indoor shooting ranges and lead contamination

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  • Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 12:41pm



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    Question about indoor shooting ranges and lead contamination

Hi Folks-

   I have had my pistol permit for a couple of years now, but have not yet learned to shoot.  I made inquiries locally, and have the opportunity to get instruction at a local range.  If I want training now, it will be at an indoor range.  If I wait until Spring, I can get the training at an outdoor range.  

   Here's my concern: When I took the training class necessary to get my pistol permit, the instructor warned us to stay away from indoor ranges, as the lead from shooting was a health concern.  He preferred outdoor ranges.  All things being equal, that would be my preference too.  But I am concerned about postponing my initial training with handling and shooting a pistol until then.  So I wanted to ask you all what your thoughts are about using indoor ranges, and whether you have any concerns about lead poisoning or not.  (Lord knows I don't need to lose any more brain cells than I already am via the aging process!:)

   Thanks in advance for your insights!

  • Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 02:18pm



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    Lead exposure

I'm concerned about lead exposure related to shooting too. Unfortunately, I've never seen a professional research study on the subject (related to exposure while training with firearms, indoors or out). I'd love to see some studies if anyone here knows of any.

I've been shooting about 25 years and more than half has been on indoor ranges. Shooting outdoors has always seemed like a better idea, but it is not without it's exposure too. At my police department's outdoor range, many of the instructors leave boots and clothes that they wear on the range (and only on the range) at work and change into and out of their street clothes to commute.  We are ordered to walk only on the concrete pathways and to stay out of the grass where they believe the lead can accumulate more without being washed away by the rain.  We clean up our spent brass by hand that falls onto the concrete but a machine is used to get the rest of it from the grass.  Our backstop, which consists of finely shredded tires, is replaced every five years or so.  We are never allowed to eat or drink on or near the range.  However, our range staff are very lax in making sure everyone in each class washes their hands and face after each shooting session, and especially before eating/drinking.

I've seen all kinds of indoor ranges and even though I don't have any way of measuring lead contamination some seem much better than others.  Of course, the more years people have been shooting at an indoor range, the more likely lead dust has accumulated.  That would give new ranges an advantage over the older ones, though number of rounds fired in a typical month would be something else to consider. A small, infrequently used old range, might have less lead contamination than a big, new range which is packed with shooters throughout the week.  I'm thinking the quality of the ventilation system is a key component of safety from lead exposure.  I've shot at two indoor ranges that brag about their ventilation systems and I can actually feel the air flow pulling the air down range from the shooters to the backstop where the exhaust is located.  There's another range where I almost never shoot but where I do buy guns that seems to have the same inside air that it had last year (which is why I don't shoot there).

Overall, I follow these guidelines:

1. Shoot outdoors when possible.

2. If you have a choice between indoor ranges, choose an indoor range that has good ventilation.

3. Never eat, drink, smoke or otherwise put your hands to your mouth while shooting.

4. Always use cold water (warm/hot water opens up your pores to allow more lead absorption) to wash hands and face after each shooting session. Remove clothes worn shooting as soon as practical.

5. If you're pregnant or nursing, don't shoot at all or perhaps only outdoors.

Overall, I would be much more concerned I would NEED my training to save my life before I could get into an outdoor training class in the spring or summer than I would about the limited lead exposure from winter training at an indoor range.  After all these years, the only symptoms I have are coughing up blood, lack of short term memory and tremors in my hands smiley so I'd encourage you to get your training ASAP.


  • Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 03:12pm



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    Where there is no POLICEMAN

We should ask Tom and Aaron to write this book for us.  It could join "Where there is No DOCTOR" and "Where there is no DENTIST" and "Food Preservation for DUMMIES" on our bookshelves.

We will need to integrate the role of policeman back into out own psyche's and lives.  Just like the roles of farmer, wood cutter and home repair guy.

Previously we have had the luxury of picking up the phone and calling for "a man with a gun" for urgent delivery during frightening moments, a service something like the Domino Pizza delivery promise, but even faster.  

What will we do when that phone call doesn't work any more?


  • Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 04:03pm

    Chris Martenson

    Chris Martenson

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    Lead Exposure (indoors)

I make it a practice to only shoot jacketed bullets indoors, under the theory that lead-only bullets vaporize a bit and put that into the air.

I just don't want to be breathing freshly-vaporized lead.

Also, I would not shoot regularly at a place where others do not follow that practice or that has a poor ventilation system.

Some places get these concepts; others are ignorant.  I'm going with caution on this one.

  • Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 04:05pm


    Aaron M

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Hey Tom, maybe you should drop me a line…


As I write this, I'm taking a break from a big (think, ~75,000 words) project. 
Mid 2014 should be pretty exciting for me, and hopefully, I'll be able to make a more major contribution to the overall resilience of this community and the literary world at large…

I prefer outdoor ranges for a number of reasons – first and foremost, there is less noise pollution. Especially for newer shooters, this is an unnecessary distraction. The lead issue concerns me as well, but these ranges do have decent ventilation and should have HEPA filters. I agree with 100% of what Tom has said above. Apart from the health risks, the close proximity to other shooters of questionable discipline and distractions, it's just a lot more enjoyable to shoot outdoors. If you don't have access to an outdoor range, the indoor range probably won't do you any serious harm (unless you live and sleep in the thing) but it's going to be "second best" to an outdoor venue for all the reasons Tom has already eloquently listed.



  • Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 10:53pm



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    Thanks for the good information!

Thanks everyone for your insights!  What Tom said,

"Overall, I would be much more concerned I would NEED my training to save my life before I could get into an outdoor training class in the spring or summer than I would about the limited lead exposure from winter training at an indoor range "

-is exactly the way I am feeling right now.  So I am glad to get input from you folks who have more knowledge/experience with this so I can make that decision in an informed way, and so I know what to do to make sure that any lead exposure is as limited as possible.   (BTW, nice touch with the "coughing blood" thing, Tom!;)

Aaron, you've got my curiosity peaked; I can't wait to hear more about what your writing project whenever you are ready to share more!



  • Sat, Dec 14, 2013 - 11:35pm


    Taz Alloway

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    I share your concern

Luckily, lead is less of an issue for mature adults, especially those aware of the risk and actively practicing lead exposure reduction practices. The really sensitive individuals to lead toxicity are growing children. Luckily, some ranges have done the work to provide sufficient air exchanges to lower the airborne lead concentrations. You may wish to inquire to see if your range has been designed properly or has been adapted to reduce lead exposure.  As Chris says, shooting jacketed or copper bullets can reduce exposure. See:


However, if you are with others, it is hard to control what other people are shooting.

A prudent measure may be to minimize the time you use an indoor range (if not remediated to increase air exchanges) to reduce your exposure until spring. And, you can always monitor your blood lead levels if you are concerned about your exposure. It is a commonly available test.

  • Sun, Dec 15, 2013 - 03:58am



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    range noise

A long time ago when I went to my first shooting range, in TX, I could feel the concussion in my chest from some "full-house" .357 magnum loads being used in a booth near me and I never went back, very disconcerting. I also realized that the ventilation there was poor, leading to my subsequently using only outdoor ranges since then. Only, recently, though, did I learn that you can damage your hearing through bone conduction even while wearing excellent muffs outdoors. Now I also wear ear plugs under my muff hearing protectors. Those old pistoleros must have been brain damaged and deaf.

Good info about washing hands afterwards and cold water, will be sure to bring with me.

  • Tue, Dec 17, 2013 - 07:21pm



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    indoor range thoughts

My two cents are as follows:

I would want to make sure that the indoor range is properly constructed with a good ventilation system.

At one recent training class I was told that a lot of unburned stuff shoots out the muzzle and on indoor ranges it lands on the floor between you and the target, so not walking out into this area is probably a smart idea.

I was also told that you should not use brooms to sweep up brass.  Apparently they use a sqweegie thing to rake brass to avoid stirring up dust.

Another issue with indoor ranges is that the noise is louder.  I use 33db muffs with a pair of ear plugs under them for indoor shooting, while the normal Howard Leight 26db muffs seem to be fine outdoors.

At busy public ranges I would also be worried about the idiot in the stall next to you.

Bottom line, I would not let worries about indoor ranges stop you from going.


  • Sun, Jan 05, 2014 - 07:00pm


    Wendy S. Delmater

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    lead contamination

Many of you know that I am a heavy construction safety engineer; as such, I can advise you on issues of lead toxicity. All of the above information is good. I would merely add that lead dust is something that mainly needs to be dealt with as an industrial hygiene matter.

An OSHA Training Manual on Lead outlines the personal practices that protect you from lead. Other than Housekeeping, which you as a shooter are not responsible for, they mention the following items, which I will synopsize.

  1. Personal Hygiene Practices

    a.  Personal hygiene is also an important element in any program to protect workers from exposure to lead dust. When employee exposure is above the PEL (permissible exposure limit) , the lead standard requires the employer to provide, and ensure that workers use, adequate shower facilities (where feasible), hand-washing facilities, clean change areas, and separate noncontaminated eating areas. Employees must also wash their hands and faces prior to eating, drinking, using tobacco products, or applying cosmetics, and they must not eat, drink, use tobacco products, or apply cosmetics in any work area where the PEL is exceeded. In addition, employees must not enter lunchroom facilities or eating areas while wearing protective work clothing or equipment unless surface lead dust has first been removed from the clothing or equipment by vacuuming or another cleaning method that limits dispersion of lead dust. (Synopsis: wash your hands before putting anything in you mouth or near your nose and eyes.)

    b.  Workers who do not shower and change into clean clothing before leaving the worksite may contaminate their homes and vehicles with lead dust (emphasis mine, because you need to change your clothes and shower if you have kids at home.) Other members of the household may then be exposed to harmful amounts of lead. A recent NIOSH publication (NIOSH 1992) points out the dangers of "take-home" lead contamination. For the same reason, vehicles driven to the worksite should be parked where they will not be contaminated with lead.

    c. The personal hygiene measures described above will reduce worker exposure to lead and decrease the likelihood of lead absorption caused by ingestion or inhalation of lead particles. In addition, these measures will minimize employee exposure to lead after the work shift ends, significantly reduce the movement of lead from the worksite, and provide added protection to employees and their families.

Something to remember: lead is very heavy. The dust tends to drift down to the floor, and stay there. You are most likely to pick up lead on your shoes. You might want to have a separate pair of shoes you use for an indoor range.

Me? The only indoor range I ever used was once at an NYPD one that had amazingly good hygiene practices. I second the suggestion of wearing sound-deadening muffs PLUS earplugs for indoor shooting: muffs increase your protection over  earplugs by about 30%, but plugs alone work better than muffs alone.


If you want further information on lead dust at firing rages, please read The Navy Environmental Health Center's paper,  INDOOR FIRING RANGES INDUSTRIAL HYGIENE TECHNICAL GUIDE.

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