Lead poisoning and testing for lead

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

Anyone who shoot regularly should be aware of the dangers of lead poisoning.

I do not want to cause alarm as I am sure most of you will never have a problem.

Lead poisoning has some nasty symptoms all of which can be attributed to many other sicknesses. These include ( taken from the Health & Saftey website of the University of Texas at Austin):

1. Loss of memory, and difficulty in concentration. This is frequently the first symptom seen.
2. Fatigue. This can become profound and incapacitating.
3. Irritability and aggressiveness.
4. Loss of sexual interest. Impotence.
5. Insomnia. (Which greatly complicates the fatigue.)
6. Depression.
7. Headaches.
8. Neurological symptoms, such as hand twitching.
9. Encephalopathy. This is the medical term for major brain dysfunction
10. Elevated blood pressure.
11. Digestive difficulties and abdominal pains.
12. Weight loss.
13. Joint pains, particularly in the joints of the long bones, like the wrists.
14. Anemia.
15. In women, menstrual irregularity and decreased fertility. (Again, lead poisoning may have been responsible for the documented dramatic decrease in fertility among the Roman nobility and upper classes.)
16. Kidney damage and/or liver damage.
17. Sore or bleeding gums around the margin of the gum and tooth.
18. In children, retarded intellectual development, behavioral problems, as well as most of the other problems listed above.

Most shooters will not experience lead poisoning but if you are in contact with lead in other areas of your life if can be dangerous.

“The daily exposure to toxic materials in our shooting/training environment creates a sword of Damocles above our heads. ” – Jen Heider

I am very careful about my health. I get a blood test for lead annually. This is probably more often than needed but I do not take chances with my health. My lead levels have never been high enough to cause concern.

I think testing yourself every few years if you are a casual shooter or more frequently if you are an instructor and enthusiast, I am the latter.

Here are some links you may find useful:


LEAD POISONING – It can happen to you!


(Photo from Harshad Sharma)

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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Join the conversation
  • Michael Michael on Apr 09, 2010

    I shoot quite a lot, 2 or 3 times a week. High powered rifle and handgun are the ones a most often shoot. I am 54 years old and have kept this shooting pattern for at least 40 years and have had several lead and other heavy metal blood tests with results being very low levels considered in the normal range. But I find your warning to be of good sense in that some folks like to shoot non jacketed stuff of which I simply don't touch or shoot and not for reason of exposure. I like loading only the good stuff. It is still much less expensive to load jacketed ammo than buying factory, even if I'm loading the expensive stuff like Nosler partition, Gold Dot, and so on.

  • Canti Canti on Apr 13, 2010

    That message to instructors is very true. Don't underestimate lead poisoning, especially in air. I used to shoot several indoor matches with an awesome group of people. We were all shocked when our beloved leader and range officer came down with serious lead poisoning. The circulation downrange was not effective as in the shooting stalls, and long hours of weekly competitions and training took its toll on the man. He has since stopped shooting indoors, and had to stop shooting for several months. Please take caution, step outside and get some fresh air!