Could Guns in the Home Expose Kids to Toxic Lead?

By   |  March 6, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

WEDNESDAY, March 6, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Childhood exposure to lead has long been a public health concern, with lead in water and paint leading to brain damage and developmental delays in kids.

Now researchers have uncovered an unexpected source of household lead exposure -- firearm ammunition.

There’s about a 40% increase in cases of elevated blood lead levels among children for every 14% increase in the number of households that own a gun, researchers reported recently in the Journal of Pediatrics.

In fact, the association between firearm use and elevated lead levels in kids is almost as strong as the link between childhood blood lead and lead-based paint, they added.

“This is very concerning because we don’t have a system of monitoring lead from firearm use, as we do with residential paint, and there is no system in place to minimize or prevent children’s exposure to lead in firearms,” said lead researcher Christian Hoover, a doctoral candidate in epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health.

“Firearm use is a relatively unchecked source of childhood exposure to lead,” Hoover added in a university news release. “There’s currently no way to stop the exposure from happening and no interventions when it does.”

The most common ammunition in the United States contains lead in both the projectile and the primer, researchers said in background notes.

When someone fires a gun, lead dust settles on clothes and personal items, and it also contaminates vehicles and common areas where guns are being fired.

“Typically, the places where the firearm-related lead collects, such as in carpets, are places where young children spend a considerable amount of time,” Hoover said.

Lead levels in U.S. children have remained persistently high for decades, despite public health measures to rein in toxic lead exposure through paint and drinking water, the researchers said.

Childhood exposure to lead increases the risk of behavioral problems, reduced brain function and poor growth and development, researchers said.

There is no safe level of lead exposure, said researcher Joseph Braun, director of the Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Brown University.

“Despite public health efforts to prevent or reduce childhood lead exposure, a substantial proportion of U.S. children are still exposed,” Braun said. “Thus, we need to identify other modifiable sources of lead exposure in children’s environments to protect their developing bodies and brains.”

To investigate whether lead-based gun ammo was contributing to kids’ exposure to lead, researchers compared data on gun ownership to reported child blood lead levels in 44 states.

The researchers estimated gun ownership between 2012 and 2018 using a proxy measure that combined data on firearm suicides, hunting licenses, subscriptions to Guns and Ammo magazine and background checks for purchases of firearms.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on childhood lead exposure.

SOURCE: Brown University, news release, Feb. 22, 2024