Effort to prevent lead exposure would restrict minors’ access to ammo

Dealers and ranges would be required to display warning signs for lead ammo

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

A Seattle lawmaker is concerned that lead exposure from ammunition and range activities may be harmful to Washington children.

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives aims to minimize the amount of lead children are exposed to while shooting.

House Bill 1346, introduced by Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, would make it generally unlawful to sell, transfer, give or otherwise make lead ammunition available to individuals under the age of 21. Lead ammunition shared by a parent or guardian would be exempt.

Members of the National Guard would also be exempt, Pollet said.

The Center for Disease Control says that blood-lead levels under 5 micrograms per deciliter can have adverse effects on intelligence quotients for children ages 6-16. The same federal study found the mean lead levels in some 15-17-year-old competitive shooters to be nearly seven times higher than that of their non-shooting family members, but noted that no formal maintenance protocol was observed at their range.

It also did not account for outdoor ranges, where lead contamination is diluted.

“Today, you have a chance to do something that you know, based on evidence, and very strong evidence, will significantly reduce lead exposure, neurological damage and loss of IQ,” Pollet said.

“I kind of find the premise a little bit offensive,” said Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw. “That my IQ is lower because I shot at indoor ranges as a child.”

“If you used a gun frequently — and I did as a kid — chances are your IQ was lowered,” Pollet said. “Sorry to tell you that.”

The Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders says that children absorb about 50 percent of lead ingested, compared to 10 percent by adults, because of their rapid bone growth. The CDC says there is no safe blood level of lead.

Lead is also found in metal mixtures and in batteries. The Wildlife Society says the metal can lead to reproductive impairment at “lower levels.”

“I have this friend; she’s going to college,” said Emery Lindauer, a high school student who shoots at Marysville Rifle Club. “She’s been to the Junior Olympics several times. I don’t think her IQ got any lower. Because she has straight A’s.”

Many states already prohibit lead shot while hunting waterfowl, and California prohibits lead projectiles for big game hunting in an area where endangered California condors reside. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries encourages the use of non-lead ammunition.

Some sportsmen are concerned lead-free alternatives are inferior to their lead-based counterparts.

“There is no lead-free ammunition out there that we can use for our shooters,” said marksman coach and Tacoma resident Zachary Duncan. “It’s expensive, inaccurate and hard-to-get.”

Matt Cieslar, owner of Talos Tactical in West Richland, said although he sees no significant differences in performance between lead and non-lead rounds, non-lead munitions cost significantly more — twice as much in some cases — than lead options.

John Colman, owner of Colman Fishing Supply in Auburn, said non-lead sinkers are more than double the price their lead equivalents. On Cabela’s website, eight of 10 non-lead sinkers listed for sale are under $10.

“Most people have not wanted to spend extra money for alternatives,” Colman said.

Any regulation that would restrict access to lead ammunition would target shooters in the lowest income bracket, said Cieslar.

At a firing range, where so many things can go wrong, lead ammunition is the least concern for Cieslar, even when his children were at the range.

“That would be about the last thing I’m worried about it,” Cieslar said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think I’d be worried about it.”

Cieslar said he’s much more worried about the quality of the range safety procedures and the quality of coaches.

“I think it’s one of those things where the industry is policing itself pretty well,” Cieslar said.

Pollet still thinks more needs to be done.

“No one thinks about the fact that we’re causing very significant exposure to lead,” Pollet said. “And it’s totally avoidable.”

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