New report warns of high lead risk for military firing range workers

December 3, 2012

(Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

A report released Monday afternoon has found “overwhelming evidence” that 30-year-old federal standards governing lead exposure at Department of Defense firing ranges and other sites are inadequate to protect workers from ailments associated with high blood lead levels, including problems with the nervous system, kidney, heart and reproductive system.

The report, issued by the National Research Council, recommends that the Pentagon review its guidelines and practices protecting workers from lead exposure on firing ranges, including lowering acceptable blood lead levels “to more stringent levels” that reduce the risk of adverse health effects.

The military operates  hundreds of military ranges around the world run by both uniformed and civilian personnel where troops are trained in the use of handguns, shotguns, rifles and machine guns.

The ranges operate under Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards developed in 1978 which predate a great volume of research into the hazards of occupational lead exposure, according to the report.

The review, which was requested by the Defense Department, said that it is not possible to determine the specific risks faced by military range workers because there is little blood lead level data available for the population.

But it warned that data on airborne concentrations of lead at DoD firing ranges found that the current OSHA permissible exposure limit is exceeded for some jobs “by several orders of magnitude,” an amount that could lead to increased blood lead levels in workers.

The report recommends that that the Defense Department analyze blood levels from a representative sample of range workers from all services to get a better understanding of the health risks involved.

Steve Vogel is a reporter for the national staff of The Washington Post who covers the federal government and frequently writes about the military and veterans.
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