Whether you're required to train regularly with a firearm or target shooting is your hobby, you may be exposed to more than you realize every time you hit the range. Some bullets and primers contain lead, a neurotoxin that typically builds up in the human body over time and causes brain and organ damage. And if you're one of the 34.4 million people who enjoy shooting, you may have elevated levels of lead in your body -- and your shooting range may be to blame.

When a bullet is fired, it leaves behind a little bit of lead-containing dust. Without proper ventilation, you may breathe this in, or it may get on your hands and clothes, where you'll ingest it or bring it home to expose your family. In fact, some indoor and outdoor firing ranges have been found to have toxic levels of lead in the ground and air, posing a risk for workers and visiting shooters.

One investigative report from The Seattle Times found that among more than 6,000 gun ranges in the U.S., only 201 have been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the past 10 years. And of those, 86 percent had at least one lead-related violation.

Are You at Risk?

Next to those who work with lead as part of the jobs, shooters are most likely to have higher-than-recommended levels of lead in their blood. The frequency at which you visit the range can have a big impact on how much lead you ingest.

You may also be at risk of having excessive lead exposure if:

  • You fire inexpensive range ammunition or primers, which may contain lead styphnate.
  • You shoot at an indoor range, which typically has less ventilation.
  • You often eat or drink at the range, where what you ingest can easily become contaminated with lead dust.

What Can You Do to Minimize Risk?

In order to reduce your risk of lead contamination at the shooting range, follow these guidelines:

  • Visit an outdoor range as much as possible.
  • Ask about ventilation systems at the indoor ranges you go to. To be safest, indoor ranges must have a separate ventilation system just for the range that carries smoke down the range to filter and discharge it.
  • Use jacketed ammunition and avoid primers.
  • Wash your hands immediately after shooting. Change your clothing and wash your entire body as soon as possible. Wash the clothing separately from your family's laundry, especially if you have small children, who are most susceptible to lead's effects.
  • Don't eat or drink at the range.

What Can You Do if You're Concerned?

If you are a frequent shooter and have concerns about your potential exposure to lead, your doctor can test your blood lead levels. This can give you some idea of whether you've had excessive exposure. You can also have your family's blood levels checked.

Levels high? Your doctor may recommend a treatment called chelation that can remove lead from the bloodstream.

If you suspect that your high levels of lead are a result of negligence at your shooting range -- if, for example, they don't engage in regular testing for lead levels in the soil and air, or if they do not have adequate ventilation, you might contact a personal injury law firm to find out what your legal options are. Your law firm may be able to help you gain compensation from the range for your medical issues.