If You Thought We Were Lead-Free…

Lead is a health hazard. Ingesting the metal can cause lead poisoning (also called plumbism) with the symptoms of developmental delays, abdominal pain, and neurologic changes, among others. And it can be fatal if lead levels get too high.

Over the years we’ve gone to great lengths to remove lead from our environment. It’s no longer used in paints, plumbing or gasoline, for example. And yet it still pops up occasionally to cause trouble. One problem is lead in old water pipes. Recently, I have learned of another — gunshot wounds.

This is a bigger problem than you might think, considering there are about 80,500 nonfatal gunshot injuries in this country every year. Many times, bullets cannot be recovered from the body because they are either small fragments or are too close to vital organs. In 2017, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report linking bullet fragments and lead toxicity. This report identified 457 adult shooting survivors who tested positive for high lead levels in their blood. If that sounds low, it is. There is a reporting system, the Adult Blood Lead Epidemiology and Surveillance ( https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ables/default.html ) program, but not all states cooperate, plus the federal government eliminated funding in 2013.

Sarah Salazar survived a mass shooting, but an X-ray shows the shotgun pellets still in her body.

One solution would be to manufacture bullets using another metal. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 9 billion rounds of ammunition are either made in the U.S. or imported each year and 95% of them contain lead. Lead bullets do have several advantages — they are cheap and their density provides maximum damage to the target. But other materials will work, too. The problem is there is presently little interest in regulating ammunition at the federal level. Some states have stepped up to ammunition regulation, but any efforts are anathema to gun enthusiasts. “If you have the misfortune of being shot, the bullet is probably going to be made of lead,” says former Environmental Protection Agency toxicologist Mark Maddaloni.

Fortunately, elevated lead levels in the blood can be treated. So if this misfortune happens to you or someone you know, don’t forget to monitor your blood for the rest of your life.

An excellent article on this subject is “The Poison in their Blood” by Melissa Chan in the July 8, 2019 issue of Time magazine. A preview is available at https://www.scribd.com/article/414839475/The-Poison-In-Their-Blood. That site is the source of the photo.

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