Many Americans love using gun ranges, and thousands have gotten sick because of it. In an ongoing investigation called "Loaded with Lead," the Seattle Times reports that "reckless" range owners often fail to clean and ventilate shooting areas plagued by lead dust and vapor. The result: a legacy of Americans sickened with lead poisoning, including family members contaminated by lead that shooters tracked home (in fact, national statistics show that lead poisoning from shooting guns is the main cause of lead poisoning off the job). Ensuing health issues include nausea, fatigue, mental problems, and damaged organs. One range master says his teeth fell out, and a New Hampshire police sergeant died from lead absorbed at a firing range. "I'm beat, I'm going to bed. Goodnight," he told his wife one day, and was dead in bed the next morning.
Warnings about poisoning at indoor gun ranges date back to the 1960s, yet state and federal regulators rarely test police ranges. When they did in Baltimore and Washington state, and found them dangerous, cleaning policies weren't fully overhauled. Other gun-range users have suffered, too—like the 20 youths in a Washington state gun club who tested positive for lead exposure (and children are more vulnerable due to their developing brains, NBC News notes). Now police in Kirkland, Wash., say they have a solution: a $1.3 million gun range that uses lead-free ammunition. "The big elephant in the room is probably the cost, because it does cost more," says a Kirkland sergeant of copper ammunition. "But in the long run, it ends up paying for itself." Delve into the Times' probe, which is in four parts (one, two, three, and four.)