Reloading ‘could raise blood lead levels’, suggests study

8 Jan 2016 – Handloading your own ammunition could contribute to raised levels of toxic lead in your bloodstream, if a Norwegian scientific study is to be believed.

The paper, titled Consumption of lead-shot cervid meat and blood lead concentrations in a group of adult Norwegians, focused on building evidence to support a lead shot ban in Norway.*

However, one of the related areas the researchers looked at during the study was the link between reloading and blood lead levels. The idea was to separate out other factors that caused elevated blood lead levels in game meat eaters.

“The health effects of lead have mainly been related to the concentration of lead in blood, and health based risk assessments and derivation of guidance values for lead in food have been derived from blood lead concentrations,” wrote the researchers, who noted that lead “impairs neurodevelopment” and has been “shown to have cardiovascular, nephrotoxic, endocrine, gastrointestinal, haematological, musculoskeletal, reproductive and developmental” effects.

Long story short, lead is toxic if you ingest it.

Survey into lifestyle habits

The researchers gave a 32-question survey to the study’s 147 participants, all of whom were regular game meat eaters. Amongst other things, the survey asked how long they had been shooting for, their height, weight and occupation, smoking and drinking habits, whether they were reloaders, and whether they were taking any dietary supplements.

Of the 92 men in the study, 90% reported that they fired about 500 rounds a year, while the 55 women fired an average (mean) of 6.5 rounds a year. As the survey was distributed to hunters and two thirds of the participants were over 40, it seems reasonable to assume that the men did the actual hunting and most of the women who responded were their wives.

13 of the participants said they reloaded what the researchers described as “lead ammunition”. It is unclear whether this covers cast lead bullets, jacketed or semi-jacketed bullets, or some uncontrolled mishmash of the three.

Blood lead analysis

Blood samples were then taken from the participants and analysed. Of the 13 reloaders, their median blood lead level was given as 31.4 micrograms per litre. Mean blood levels for participants who did not reload was 18.1μg/L, while it was 33.5μg/L for reloaders. These figures have not been controlled to take any other factors into account.

UK Shooting News’ author notes that the Norwegian study expressed its results in μg/L. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive recommends (PDF, 11 pages) that people working with lead should take action if their blood lead levels reach 50μg/100ml and be suspended from work if it reaches 70μg/100ml. The HSE advice is expressed in μg/100ml; a tenfold difference. Care must therefore be exercised when interpreting these results.

The Norwegian reloaders thus appear to be slightly more than ten times under the British ‘take action’ limit.

Should reloaders panic, then? No – but be sensible

What conclusions can we draw for British reloaders, then? None. The relevant sample size is barely into double figures and the study relied on a self-reporting questionnaire to determine reloading habits on a ‘yes/no’ basis – and did not distinguish between bare lead bullets and jacketed bullets. Moreover, the study’s main focus was not reloading, so drawing any meaningful conclusions about reloading from it would be silly. At best, this is just a signpost that more research into this area is needed.

That said, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after handling or firing lead bullets, and to ensure that the fans at your indoor range are switched on so airborne lead fragments are pulled outside the building. After all, lead poisoning is pretty nasty.

* Norway’s ban on lead shot in hunting was repealed a year ago for all areas except wetlands “because it lacked a solid evidential basis”. Anti-shooting campaigners in the UK have long been trying to have a similar ban imposed here despite the lack of reliable evidence.

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