By Commentary by Cathy Shank, SWCS Safety OfficeMarch 14, 2012
You may have recently heard or even read about the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School's efforts to reduce lead exposure on its firing ranges at Fort Bragg, N.C. The command's efforts to reduce the possible exposures to its Soldiers, civilians and contractors have received a great deal of attention.
Lead concerns were identified near the turn of the 20th century, years before the U.S. began adding lead to gasoline to raise the octane level. Why take the risk? Lead styphnate and lead azide are stable elements with the explosive properties necessary to smooth out engine knocking, raise the octane and correct timing and compression problems that existed in automobiles. These same properties make the use of lead styphnate and lead azide invaluable in our ammunition and explosive primers.
The greatest risk of exposure is through inhalation, second to this is ingestion. The majority of range-firing conducted does not present an exposure concern. Indoor facilities or semi-enclosed facilities and outdoor ranges with little airflow are conducive to exposures when demolitions or continuous firing is routinely conducted.
What can you do?
Use good personal hygiene. Washing your hands and stepping away from the source, even if it is just 20 feet away to have a drink, eat, or take a break can make a big difference over time.
Use protective equipment. Gloves and a particle or dust mask can make a difference in what you may inhale or ingest. If you are passionate about weapons firing and spend a lot of time shooting, or if you reload personally owned ammunition then it would be prudent to take steps to protect yourself.
Limit any unnecessary exposure. Limit exposure to yourself and your family. If you have spent a day on the firing range, get cleaned up and in fresh clothes before you hold your baby or play with your kids, or even give your pregnant wife a hug and a kiss. Separate your clothing for laundering. Whether you are in your barracks or your home, keep the lead out of our living area.
Lead exposures add up over time. Lead is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children's developing nerves and brains. The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be. Unborn children are the most vulnerable.
If you have questions or concerns you can contact your Safety Officer or call the SWCS Safety Office at (910) 432-0838. Protect yourself today so that you can preserve your health for the future.