THE BADGE Circa 1957 front 2nd The Way it WasTHE BADGE THE BEST OF CHUCK KLEIN






Chuck Klein © 1999

Law & Order Magazine, (1-2000);

International Association of Chiefs of Police/National Law,
Enforcement Policy Center's Policy Review (Summer/Fall 2002)

(made part of the) Virginia State Police Academy training curriculum. (c. 2002)

Ch. 3 in Instinct Combat Shooting, Defensive Handgunning for Police, 3rd edition (2004)

 National Criminal Justice Reference Service
 Lead Poisoning: Still a Concern for Indoor and Outdoor Ranges
  NCJ 180674, Chuck Klein, Law and Order, 48, 1, 2000, 62-66, (5 pages).
  NCJRS Abstract 

The purpose of this article is not to suggest (as the evidence does not support) curtailing shooting or reloading activities in any way. Rather, to make firearms instructors, trainers, maintenance/clean-up personnel and those who regularly shoot firearms, aware of the possibility of lead poisoning and how to secure protection from toxic lead contamination.


A generation or so, ago, police officers were lucky if they shot once a year. Any practice between "qualifications" meant shooting solid lead "wadcutter" reloads. A few years later and it was soon determined that it was best to shoot what you carry for qualifications as well as all practice sessions. By the start of the 1990s, in response to litigation fears, many departments began requiring monthly practice. Most factory ammunition is copper jacketed and, as the incorrect thinking of the time went, lead poisoning was eliminated - it was no longer a concern. Jacketed bullets most certainly spew lead particles upon impact with steel backstops, but the amount of this projectile disintegration borne residue is not as significant as the lead dust sprayed into the air - at arms length to the shooter - upon discharge of the cartridge.

In days long-gone, most shooters learned basic skills in a single lesson taking only a few minutes. Instructors were usually a knowledgeable fellow officer, not a certified teacher. Practice most often involved "plinking" 50 rounds a couple of times a year. Consumption of expensive factory ammo - on less crowded ranges - was far less than today's multi-lane confines. Today, where ammo, in relation to cost of life indexes, is cheap; the watchword has become burn more powder. And, with burning powder comes the risk of toxic lead exposure. Also, with gratitude to the NRA, there are now many, many instructors who log hours and hours of range time.

Range officers, instructors and beat officers, due mostly to increased line time and quantities of rounds fired, are exposed to greater amounts of toxic pollutants than ever before. The most dangerous of these toxins is lead. Not the lead bullet/pellets, per se, but the lead compounds sprayed into the air with the firing of the primer.


Lead (chemical symbol: Pb) is everywhere. Though it is heavier than air it is in the air we breathe due to the inherent dust stirred up by moving objects (people, fan exhaust blades, ambient air movement). Lead is used in roofing materials, electric cable coverings, storage batteries, radiation shields (dental/medical offices). It is also used in vulcanizing rubber, making glass, rust resistant paints, insecticides, dyes and until the 1980s, gasoline. Lead, in dust form, accumulates in the human body because it is one of the few ingredients not eliminated via kidney, liver or other methods of waste removal functions. Lead damages red blood cells (hemolysis - rupturing of red blood cells) and causes degeneration of nerve cells in the brain.

If one were to, say, swallow a lead bullet, it would most likely pass through the digestive system as a solid non-digestible item with little or no adverse effects. If it doesn't pass, it can be removed surgically. If not removed, it will, in time, eat its way through wherever it is lodged causing massive internal damage. However, tiny doses of lead, ingested through respiration or digestion accumulate over a long period of time gets into the blood. If the lead particles continue to accumulate, death will eventually result.

With the exception of lead free cartridges, projectiles are made up of lead, copper, zinc and antimony. The common properties of a primer are: copper, zinc, lead antimony, barium, lead styphnate and tetazene. Unless the bullet is totally encased in a non-lead product (copper), elemental lead is shaved as it passes through the barrel and then dispersed into the air.

When this bullet impacts with a steel backstop it breaks up throwing more lead into the air and onto the ground. This form of lead, in its elemental state, is not the major concern. Elemental lead, in the form of dust from the fragmented bullets (after hitting steel backing plates) and shavings from the barrel are mostly a problem for clean-up crews at firing ranges.

It's the compound leads that are vaporized and formed by the burning powder that are of greatest risk to shooters and range officers. These dangerous gases come from two sources. First, the burning powder sears the base of the lead projectile causing lead gases to be expelled with the powder residue. It is this compounded lead, along with the second source, the vaporized lead and lead styphnate (from the discharge of the primer), which possess the greatest danger to those on the shooting line.

THE BADGEIt has always been known that long term and/or short intense exposure to lead particles and dust can cause lead poisoning. Until recently the effect of the sports of shooting and reloading and required certification/practice for most police officers to incidence of lead poisoning has been ignored. Reports of toxic levels of lead in police officers assigned to range duty, including one recent death, have raised the awareness (see Sidebar). Perhaps, it's time for the police and civilian instructors and frequent shooters to take note.

Lead, when introduced to the human blood stream is a most toxic substances. Even the tiniest amount, 1/2 of 1/10 of one grain (.005), dissolved in your blood can produce adverse reactions. Though most cases of plumbism (lead poisoning) are treatable, the treatment, like the cumulative toxic condition, takes a long time. If you have had or are experiencing any of the below symptoms it might be best to re-examine your shooting/gun/ammunition handling practices and be tested by a doctor.

We all learned the lesson of wearing hearing protection from the older shooters who go around saying "Huh" a lot. Those who lost an eye are testimony to the prudence of shooting glasses. Lets hope today's heavy shooters aren't the lead poisoning lesson for the next generation. If you're around the range a lot, be it indoor or outdoor, or you handle fired cases, take precautions and encourage your range officers to set the example.


*  Loss of memory and difficulty in concentrating. This is usually the first noticeable symptom;

*  Fatigue in various degrees. This includes a pallor, malaise, loss of appetite, irritability and sudden behavioral changes;

*  Insomnia, which may exacerbate fatigue;

*  Headaches which may be accompanied by depression;

*  Neurological disorders such as muscle spasms;

*  Mental disorders such as depression, psychoses and convulsions;

*  Brain deterioration; This, the most serious condition inasmuch as damage done, is not treatable and usually is permanent. Symptoms include limb paralysis, confusion, disorientation, coordination problems and/or insanity;

*  Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (degenerative disease of the nerve cells that controls the muscles);

*  Digestive difficulties and abdominal pains, with or without weight loss;

*  Elevated blood pressure;

*  Joint pains;

*  Anemia (hemolysis - rupturing of red blood cells);

*  Menstrual irregularity and decreased fertility;

*  Kidney and/or liver damage;

*  Sore or bleeding gums and marked by a blue line at the junction of the teeth and gums.

Some symptoms may be subtle or indicative of other disorders including, but not limited to, stress or mental illness. Everyone has occasional headaches, sleep loss and fatigue. Consistent symptoms should be a trigger that something is seriously wrong. The "Catch-22" is that brain dysfunction or short term memory problems might contribute to the inability to self-diagnose the seriousness of the symptom. Making one's spouse, partner or significant other aware of these symptoms and preform short regular mental/memory tests might rectify the problem.

The following first person account by Lt./Rangemaster Tony Gregory, Cumberland, Indiana Police Department, signifies and brings home the reality of toxic lead poisoning.

"Late in 1988 a fellow student from a Lethal Force Institute class called to tell me that he had just been diagnosed with acute lead poisoning. His primary symptoms had been extreme, almost uncontrollable irritability, deep fatigue, and memory problems. I am embarrassed to say that I didn't pay much heed to his warning. I did almost all of my instructing on outdoor ranges, and only used the indoor range for practice, usually by myself. So I figured there wouldn't be that much lead in the air. More importantly, I didn't know much about lead poisoning, and I didn't take it seriously. It sounded to me like the kind of made-up malady that it's fashionable to whine about. I was wrong.

"Over the next several months, my own level of irritability rose exponentially. This was accompanied by crushing fatigue, constant headaches, intense moodiness, severe sleep problems, and acute memory lapses. The memory problems were the most disturbing, because I had always had a "steel trap" memory. At one point, shortly before I was diagnosed, I spent two days constructing a complex computer data base, and then found a printout in my files of an identical data base, which I had evidently constructed four weeks earlier. I had absolutely no recollection of doing so.

"This sort of thing kept happening, and it was frightening. Ironically, because my memory was now impaired, I never remembered my fellow student's warning, or his account of his symptoms. As it happened, I finally found a clue to my malady in a science article about lead poisoning developing in members of a police academy firearms class. I immediately put a temporary hold on my shooting activities, and about two weeks later got into the doctor to have myself tested. The result was a blood lead level of 74 ug/dl - indicative of serious lead poisoning. Over the next 40 days that level dropped to 34 ug/dl - about one ug/dl per day - so I assume that it was nearly 90 ug/dl when I stopped my exposure two weeks before testing.

"Because my lead level dropped quickly once I curtailed exposure, I chose not to have chelation therapy, which has some risks. As my blood lead level dropped, most of my symptoms vanished. The fatigue endured the longest. I went back to shooting, but I instituted rigorous hygiene and respiration safeguards, and my lead level has stayed down for the last 9 years. I know, both from my experience, and that of others, that the risk of lead poisoning is very real, and the experience of lead poisoning is not a lot of fun."

Anthony M. Gregory
Lt./Rangemaster, Cumberland, Indiana Police Department

Please note that symptoms and the severity of such are different in each person.  Also, because lead poisoning symptoms are so varied and mimic other maladies it is difficult to self-diagnose. Though other heavy metals such as gold and iron are present (and needed) in the human body, lead, in any amount, is not. Lead is toxic to all persons, but is easily detected with a BLL (blood lead level) test available at most clinics, hospitals or doctor's offices. Lead contamination on clothing, skin, or other objects can be tested for with test kits such as the HybriVet Systems lead check swabs. These analysis tools are inexpensive and are readily available from most paint supply stores.


Children are particularly susceptible to the dangers of lead poisoning due to their smaller size in relation to amount of ingested/absorbed lead. Elemental lead dust and especially lead styphnate which become attached to clothes, hair, beards and skin are readily transferred to children. An officer, returning from firearms training - without washing and changing clothes, when greeted with hugs and kisses from his children is contaminating them with lead.


Outdoor range shooting is no less a concern than indoor ranges when it comes to inhaling lead dust. However, indoors or out, lead poisoning is just as serious when produced by other factors. A few hours of shooting outdoors during a humid, breezeless day where the expelled gasses hang in the air, or shooting into a head wind, might be far more hazardous than all day at a well ventilated indoor range.

For this article Winchester's new Super-X, Super Unleaded in 9mm Luger was tested. The 115 grain load contains a totally heavy-metal-free primer and a fully encapsulated lead core bullet. The only exposed lead is the tip of the bullet. The base is fully covered by the copper jacket thus eliminating the source of lead gases that come from vaporization of a lead base bullet during ignition.

The Super Unleaded cartridge is not to be confused with their Super Clean lead-free ammunition. The latter consists of a tin core bullet and the same lead-free primer used in the Super Unleaded. Though the tin core bullet, in 9mm, weighs 105 grains, its sectional density is significantly lower (than lead core bullets) and therefore energy and trajectory are adversely affected. The physical properties and ballistic comparisons of the Winchester SXT and the Super Unleaded, however, are very similar.

The 3M Company offers the 6000 series Low-Maintenance Half Face Piece with particle filters, with both disposable filters and their #8233 N100 Particulate Respirator. Both comfortable and pragmatic filtering devices are designed to protect the wearer from elemental and compound lead and other toxic gases. Number 8233 is a disposable mask while the 6000 series face piece utilizes disposable filters that are snapped on each side.

One problem facing range instructor while wearing any form of breathing filter is the muffled effect of their commands. For ranges that use voice amplification equipment this should not be a problem.

The test weapon was the KEL-TECH P-11 in 9mm which was fitted out with a brand new barrel so as not to contaminate the lead-free tests. First, the top of the shooting bench was covered with clean white paper. Before firing any ammo a HybriVet lead check swab was run over the bench paper, gun barrel, the shooter's hands and face. This preliminary checking done, about 75 rounds of the Super Unleaded was then fired over the paper.

Following this initial shooting the barrel was again tested, as was the bench paper and shooter for residual lead. The results yielded no evidence of lead - these Winchester Super-X, Super Unleaded rounds are truly lead free.

For comparison, and to observe if lead does settle on shooting benches and human body parts, 10 rounds of Winchester 9mm 115 grain "regular" cartridges were fired over the same paper. Running the lead check swab over the bench paper, and the shooter's hands and face most assuredly indicated the presence of lead - and that after only 10 rounds and with a 5-10 MPH tail wind!


*  Airborne residue from the discharge of primers. Lead styphnate, a common element of primers is most lethal due to its ready absorption into the body. Only about 10% of elemental lead is absorbed, but nearly 100% of ingested lead compounds, such as from a fired primer, are absorbed;

*  Shaved lead particles from bullets as they pass through the barrel;

*  Dust from cleaning the range area;

*  Handling fired cases, lead bullets or lead shot;

*  Vaporized lead gases from the base of partially jacketed bullets;

*  Eating food touched by unwashed hands after shooting or handling fired cases;

*  Food and drink that pass through a beard or mustache that hasn't been washed after shooting;

*  Absorption via exposed skin, especially on a hot day;

*  Cigarettes exposed to lead contaminated air are an easy way to ingest lead directly into the lungs;

*  Lead dust formed from fragmenting bullets as they strike a hard backstop.

Lead particles (dust and gases) are ubiquitous, they are especially prevalent at shooting ranges. Though outdoor firing ranges are somewhat less prone to lead borne air than well-ventilated indoor facilities, they both contain far more lead than most any other environment. Prior to the phasing out of tetraethyl-lead gasoline in the 1980s, just directing traffic on a busy street created a major risk to lead poisoning.



*  Blow your nose after shooting;

*  After any shooting or reloading session wash your hands and face before eating or smoking;

*  Wash hair before bed. Lead particles in the hair can transfer to the pillow and thus be ingested during sleep;

*  Use lead free primers (though not as popular as the common lead styphnate primers, they are available from most makers). This might sound like a simple solution, but the added cost of these non- traditional rounds might create budget problems for the department. Also, as with any new product, it should be have a few years of testing and field experience before being relied upon for officer survival;

*  Have your doctor test you for lead levels as part of your regular check-ups;

*  Wear breathing masks (rated for lead dust) if you are going to spend much time on the range - special attention instructors. It might seem silly to wear breathing masks, but remember how "silly" it was to wear ear protection 20-30 years ago?

*  Change out of your shooting clothes and footgear so as not to contaminate car, home or office - especially important if you have small children;

*  Appoint a spouse, partner, parent, C.O. to ask and record the answers to a series of questions - on a weekly basis. The questions might include:

The answers to these (or similar) questions should flow easily and quickly. The observer should note any non or incorrect answers and if these inconsistencies continue, lead toxicity test might be in order.

1) What did you have for: (most recent meal)?

2) What is your mother's maiden name, social security number and yesterday's date?

3) Complete the following equation: 5+3+7-(6x2)+41=(44)

4) Have you had any trouble sleeping or concentrating?

5) Have you experienced any recent joint pains, headaches, memory loss or suppressed appetite?

Here, like most things in life, common sense is the key. If lead is a toxin and part of your job involves being exposed to it, then keeping the work space and your personal gear clean is tantamount to avoiding the dangers. Preventive measures are always better than under-going treatment. Because symptoms tend to come on slowly and effect short-term memory, infected persons might not be able to recognize the onset of the conditions until serious damage occurs.


Most of these preventative measures are very inexpensive - especially when compared to the cost of officer rehabilitation after contamination.

*  Signs posted to forbid consumption of food, tobacco, beverages and cosmetics being carried into, stored or consumed on the firing range. Anyone exposed to lead by handling fired cases or shooting should wash their hands and face before eating, drinking or smoking;

*  Plastic bags should be available for shooters to place their contaminated clothes for transport to their home laundry facilities;

*  Shooters using the kneeling or prone position should cover the ground with heavy paper;

*  Range maintenance workers should be required to change clothes, shower and shampoo daily. Separate lockers should be provided to keep clean street clothes separate from contaminated work clothes;

*  Encourage the use of lead-free ammunition;

*  After each use the range floor should be vacuumed with a unit designed for collecting lead. Dry sweeping should never be practiced;

*  On indoor ranges, the ventilation system should be in operation during all shooting, clean-up and maintenance operations;

*  Range officers, maintenance workers, clean-up crews and anyone who engages in shooting activities on a substantial basis should wear breathing masks or respirators;

*  Consider having the range professionally cleaned. Some companies specialize in lead reclamation even by "mining" lead from outdoor earth banks. Depending upon the market value of reclaimed lead and copper, this might be a source of income for the department. Searching the internet for "lead reclamation" should produce a number of companies in this field.

*  These same high exposure officers, workers, and shooters should have a BLL (blood lead level) test every six months. The BLL is measured in micrograms per deciliter (ug/dl). Though most everyone has some level of lead in their blood, there is no acceptable level, but the current thinking is that 40 ug/dl in adults (25 ug/dl in children) is usually associated with acute symptoms. This level is not an absolute in all persons and might be adjusted after further study, i.e., the threshold has been reduced from the 1970 level of 60 gu/dl.


If caught in time, lead poison is treatable. Though there is no cure for lead poisoning, proper care can reduce mortality. The primary treatment must be removal of the poison causing conditions, i.e., if you shoot, handle firearms, ammunition or components or clean firing ranges stay away from those exposure locations. Medical remedies include administration of chelation drugs which bind to the heavy metal particles allowing for elimination through the digestive tract.

The problem with the chelation treatment is the drug not only cleans the body of lead, but also of other heavy metals (such as gold, copper, zinc, etc.) which are required, in traced amounts, for normal body functioning. Usually, over time and in as lead free environment as possible, the symptoms will abate. Caught-in-time is the key inasmuch as if the condition has reached the stage of degeneration of nerve cells in the brain or the liver has been destroyed, death might be unavoidable. This is not to say that even if caught-in-time, one is "home-free." The damage to certain cells, especially in the liver and the brain, are permanent.


Lead poisoning is a serious problem for frequent shooters of non- lead- free ammunition. Though incidence of plumbism death is very rare, significant impairments in brain functions are of real and immediate concern. Face filters specifically designed to restrict lead exposure, should be mandatory for range officers and clean-up personnel. Officers engaged in monthly shoots should practice prudent cleansing activities - especially if the officer has children at home. Lead testing of range and cleanup personnel should be done regularly (monthly) and periodically on all officers.

The symptoms of lead poisoning are not as obvious as a pinched nerve or skin rash because they come about slowly. In addition, indication of the conditions, due to mental retardation caused by brain cell damage make self diagnosis most difficult. Some officers are more susceptible to lead poisoning than others due to lead levels already in their blood from other exposures or just the fact that, like cancer, some smokers get cancer while others do not. Lead contamination of others via clothing that has been exposed to lead can be a significant factor. Shoes, clothing unwashed hands that have been on the range pass the contaminate to car seats, steering wheel, desks, chairs, carpet, family pets and anything else that the shooter comes in contact with. The point is, even if you are not at risk - or don't care or want to know - others with whom you have contact (especially children, spouses and partners) might not be so free of the dangers.

Because plumbism is not (yet) an epidemic disease, government agencies such as police departments, tend to resist spending any monies for its cure or prevention. Also, because lead contamination may be the result of many other factors, proving ingestion as a result of police duty target practice is difficult. Therefore. increasing the department budget to allow for the purchase of lead-free ammunition, lead level testing by a physician or even personal face filters is usually not going to happen until the administration is faced with civil suits and/or the rehabilitation of infected officers.

The bottom line, just like in the street, survival is dependent upon you alone. Practice lead cleaning procedures, check yourself regularly and protect yourself and those you live with. And watch your fellow officers. If teasing an officer for befuddled statements is a district joke, he or she might be a victim of lead poisoning.


Risks of Lead Poisoning in Firearms Instructors and Students, The Law Enforcement Trainer, Anthony M. Gregory, Sept/Oct 1998.

NOISCH Health Hazard Evaluation Report, U.S. DEPT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES, HETA 91-0346-2572, FBI ACADEMY Michael Barsan, Aubrey Miller, April 1996.

Primary Prevention of Childhood Lead Exposure: A Randomized Trial of Dust Control PEDIATRICS, Vol. 103, No. 4, April 1999, Bruce P. Lanphear, MD, MPH; Cynthia Howard, MD, MPH; Shirley Eberly, MSS; Peggy Auinger, MS; John Kolassa, PhD; Michale Weitzman, MD; Stanley J. Schaffer, MD, MS; Keith Alexander, BS.

Lead Exposure at Uncovered Outdoor Firing Ranges, Journal of Occupational Medicine, Robert Leonard Goldberg, et. al., Vol 33, No.6 June 1991.

Material Safety Date Sheet:
Remington Arms
POB 700
870 Remington Road
Madison, NC 27025-0700



3M Occupational Health and Safety Products Div.
220-3E-04, 3M Center
St. Paul, MN 55144-1000
Disposable respirators and lead dust/mist masks: Model 8710 & Model 9920

HybriVet Systems, Inc.
POB 1210
Framingham MA 01701
Lead Check Swabs for instant lead test.

Winchester Div, OLIN CORP
EAST ALTON, IL 62024-1197
Lead free ammunition.

POB 3427
Cocoa, Florida 32924-3427
1-407/631-1169 Fax