July 5, 2016 / Brigette Polmar

Lead Exposure Assessment at Military Firing Ranges

This post is the first in a series on insights into exposure assessment as presented at AIHce 2016 in Baltimore, Md. References to specific products or services do not constitute endorsement by AIHA or The Synergist.

Military firing ranges—both indoor and outdoor—provide several sources of potential exposure to lead, many of which are ammunition. Lead exposure assessments focus primarily on inhalation risk, and dermal exposures are often overlooked. Still, lead has been found on facility surfaces as well as the faces and hands of both firing range instructors and their students, increasing the potential risk for ingestion. Several interesting new assessments are taking a closer look at dermal exposure to lead in military training activities.

At an AIHce 2016 technical session on skin notations and skin contamination, Rachel Seymour, MSPH, CIH, of the Army Public Health Center’s Industrial Hygiene Field Services Program, revealed the findings of a lead exposure assessment conducted at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School with Company D of the 1st Special Warfare Training Group. The goal of the study was to measure the lead on the hands and faces of students and instructors at various points during training to determine the level of skin contamination and assess the effectiveness of hygiene practices in bringing end-of-day dermal surface lead levels back to the baseline levels captured immediately prior to training.

After two rounds of sampling, it was clear that lead accumulates on the hands and faces of both trainees and instructors. But the big question is, do the lead levels return to baseline (morning) measurements after washing? Seymour says the results are mixed.

After washing, the instructors still had levels of lead on their hands and faces higher than the morning baseline. But the students faired a bit better: while their faces still had more lead than at the beginning of the training day, their hands returned to morning levels after washing.

In Round 2, Seymour’s team set out to explore the effectiveness of cleaning with lead removal wipes. In this case participants washed with Hygenall Field Wipes. The results were impressive. Using the wipes, instructors did three times better at removing the lead from their hands and 23 times better removing lead from their faces. The students also improved the level of surface lead concentration on both face and hands using the lead removal wipes (four times better on the hands and nine times better on the face). Still, the major finding of the study revealed that, despite the effectiveness of the wipes, the lead levels had not returned to the morning’s baseline levels. The study also concluded that cleaning with lead removal wipes is more effective in reducing dermal concentration levels of lead than earlier skin cleaning methods used in 2014.

Bottom line: Lead exposure is both an inhalation and an ingestion risk via contaminated surfaces in firing ranges, and both should be considered in calculating the dose. Researchers encourage IH professionals to promote the importance of thorough skin cleaning, including the use of lead removal wipes following exposure.

Brigette Polmar

Brigette Polmar is AIHA’s conference correspondent.


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