Today we are taking the opportunity to answer questions about how blood testing is conducted in Saskatchewan for elevated levels of lead. With repeated exposure to ammunition and gunfire, target shooters and hunters might accumulate this toxic metal in their bloodstreams (especially if they fire indoors in a poorly-ventilated area). Lead poisoning has a devastating list of effects listed on Wikipedia: “Exposure to lead can occur by contaminated air, water, dust, food, or consumer products… Lead poisoning is preventable.”

Lead dust exposure happens when a firearm sprays the muzzle (and ejection ports) with lead dust – this happens upon firing. The concern is that if shooters and observers aren’t well-protected that very real health concerns can manifest.

RGSL staff have, in the past, asked Health Canada, who advised that there was no uniform standard for lead exposure at Canada for gun ranges. They do, however, have this guide to reducing a person’s exposure to lead, under their health > healthy living > health and the environment > home and garden safety section. It’s pretty general in nature.

RGSL instructors also asked the Ministry of Environment for Saskatchewan, who did not offer comment on any manner of standards for indoor gun ranges in the province. Ministry officials directed our inquiry to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, who responded pre-pandemic:

“Thanks for your inquiry. Individuals can have blood lead testing done by the Saskatchewan Health Authority at the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory in Regina. The orders would need to come through a SK licensed physician. So, the process would be to see your physician and ask to have this testing performed. 

Generally, air borne lead is only an issue if a lot of time is spent in indoor gun ranges. Monitoring individuals who spend a lot of time in these types of facilities is definitely warranted. Please contact if you require anything further.” [J.E., Clinical Biochemist, Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory, Saskatchewan Health Authority, May 8, 2019]

Firearms using lead ammunition spray lead dust out of the muzzle and ejection port when fired. [NPR, 2017]

Various articles on the subject have captured the public interest. While gun range associations and health authorities don’t appear to be checking for lead proactively in Canada in 2022, there’s plenty of media covering and documenting the various poisonous effects at ranges across the United States – where gun culture is more thoroughly entrenched, and there are multitudes of indoor gun ranges.

The Seattle Times has been covering this story for a long time, and even found that American range workers and police officers have been getting sick from gun ranges’ excessive levels of lead dust.

So the bottom line is to stay careful, and to exert your own personal responsibility to avoid the toxicity. Acknowledge that in the real world, lead concentrations can be hard to quantify, and so take steps on your own to reduce lead exposure to yourself and others. For example: ensuring good ventilation at your range, the use of lead-free bullets, as well as proper hand-washing with abrasive soaps – these are some potential starting points.