Gun ranges are an important part of American society, with more than 20 million individuals visiting ranges every year. Additionally, shooting ranges help reduce gun-related accidents and provide places for military and law enforcement personnel to practice their skills, allowing them to fulfill their role in protecting the community. To keep indoor gun ranges safe, there are many best management practices ranges must employ, especially regarding airborne lead dust at a firing range.
Why Airborne Lead Matters
Lead dust enters the air during firearm discharge, when lead bullets or ammunition containing a lead primer is used. For many reasons, these bullets are an industry standard, and more effective than their other counterparts. However, lead is toxic to the human body, and must be carefully managed. According to the World Health Organization, it can cause damage to the:
- liver and kidneys,
- circulatory system, and
- reproductive system.
In order to keep employees, visitors, range users, and the surrounding public safe, OSHA has strict guidelines for lead management, seen in 29 CFR 1910.1025.
Choosing the Correct Ventilation System
Given that most exposure to lead on firing ranges comes from lead dust initially released into the air, ventilation and lead air filters are essential when designing your lead management system. Navigating the proper system design can be complicated, as air flow is impacted by several factors, including:
- overhead or sound barriers,
- wall placement of booths and other fixtures,
- lighting fixtures,
- location of air vents,
- where shooters and viewers stand.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, “ventilation is perhaps the single most effective management tool to reduce airborne lead exposure.” There are two types of these systems you can choose from: the closed-loop system, or the direct exhaust system. Each has its own advantages; choosing which is best for your range can be a complicated decision. We recommend hiring a professional firing range ventilation contractor to make sure the job is done right.
Proper air ventilation protects everyone who visits an indoor shooting range from harmful lead dust, which can build up in the body and cause harmful side effects. If not properly managed, lead dust in the air can lead to lead poisoning, a life-threatening illness with few effective treatments. The importance of choosing an air ventilation system cannot be understated, as mechanical ventilation is the singular most effective way to filter lead dust out of the air. There are two types of lead ventilation systems: closed-loop and direct exhaust, each of which have their own benefits. Regardless of which type of lead ventilation system you choose, there are some basic guidelines to follow. A good ventilation system must:
- have an air flow of at least 50 feet per minute (fpm),
- use multiple supply ducts, to have an even flow across the building, and
- create a negative pressure that forces air to move downrange, away from shooters.
A closed-loop ventilation systems re-uses air in the range, circulating the air inside through a High Efficiency Particulate Air filter, otherwise known as a HEPA filter. These filters are highly effective at removing lead dust from the air, especially when paired with smaller, preliminary filters that catch larger particles. If you use this system, OSHA does require a backup filter and for lead levels in the air to be monitored. Benefits of closed-loop systems include:
- cheaper maintenance than direct exhaust systems,
- reduced energy costs in variable temperature climates,
- a way to reduce exposure when you cannot isolate exhaust vents, and
- the ability to recycle captured lead.
Direct Exhaust Systems
A direct exhaust system does not recirculate the air inside the range; instead, it brings in air from outside and vents contaminated air inside the range to the outdoors. These systems may include filters or may not, depending on what local regulations require. A direct exhaust system has the following benefits:
- less expensive to install initially than its closed-loop counterpart, and
- reduced energy costs in climates with little temperature variation.
Choosing the right ventilation system can be a tricky endeavor, but it all depends on what your range needs are, how stringent local regulations are, and meeting OSHA lead control guidelines.
Are You Improperly Managing Your Firing Range Filters and Other Waste?
Improperly managed range waste such as filters, debris, soil or other backstop material like rubber, along with incorrectly collected, containerized and stored lead bullets or shot can trigger US EPA RCRA hazardous waste requirements and obligations for a range. Range owners or managers interested in the new MT2 Firing Range Services Filter Treatment Technology service are encouraged to contact us today to save 50% (typically $10,000/yr.) by Never Generating Hazardous Waste, Guaranteed!