Cleaning Regimes and potential health implications

ChesterP

Well-Known Member
Another thread prompted me to have a think about us regular shooters and how often we come into compounds which are extremely hazardous for our health so I thought it might be an interesting subject to share experience and have a discussion on it. There will, of course, be opinions ranging from "don't bother worrying about it" to "hazmat suit worn every time!". However, it's not meant to be a circular argument but a forum discussion which may throw up something that we can all learn from. I'm not a chemist nor a biologist so please excuse my ignorance. I'm a humble engineer.

I visited HPS a few years ago and took and interest in Matt's new drying machine for brass. I asked him what prompted a change from the large tumblers which invariably were running most times I visited and his explanation gave me pause for thought.

Matt had recently retuned from a course on methods of batch processing/cleaning to see if there was anything he and his team could learn from and it was he who raised the issue with me and suggested I give it some thought. Of course, I don't turn over anything like the volumes he deals with on a daily basis but I do monthly batch up to several hundred rounds for case prep and reloading.

What I learned was this. Of most concern are the compounds used in primers. Primers contain, amongst others, a mix of Lead Styphnate, Barium Nitrate, Tetrazine and Antimony Sulphide. When detonated, the resultant residue contains traces of these chemicals which are known to be toxic, including cumulative toxins like lead. Over prolonged use, coming into contact with these can lead to respiratory disease and potential for poisoning of the central nervous system. More recent studies also concluded that by volume of toxicity, non lead projectile alternatives such as copper led to greater occurrence of respiratory conditions with symptoms occurring within a few days of exposure. Much of this contact happens during the firing, but in the case of case prep, shooters may have become rather unsensitised to the real dangers present when tumbling brass as the fine dust particles create a cloud of toxic fine powder in enclosed spaces which if inhaled can lead to serious long term health issues which may materialise some time later.

In Matt's case, his answer was to use ultrasonic cleaning which contains the compounds within solution, and then air drying the brass.

I modified my own regime but grew tired of U/S cleaning and drying as it was time consuming. Now, I dry tumble in a ventilated space and use gloves and an FP3 rated face mask when opening the lid of the tumbler and sieving the media into a bucket before returning to the tumbler. The media becomes more contaminated with each use so I dispose of the media after perhaps half a dozen uses because it is cheap and I want to limit my exposure. I recently had to have a CT scan of my chest and I asked that they look at my lungs as part of the scan to see of recent years has resulted in any changes from my last one some 5 years back when my chest was clear as a bell. The results came back showing that I have developed a nodule on one lung, so I am having this looked into further but it may be completely unrelated to my shooting (or it may not be).

I guess that limiting exposure time and toxicity levels is key to staying healthy so this would point to U/S or wet tumbling as perhaps the safer methods of cleaning.

My reloading stages are tumble, de-cap, full length size, trim as needed, wipe off excess lube using a kitchen towel (most use far too much lube...just a little on the fingers is plenty for several cases), prime, load powder and bullets. My workshop has the tumbler next to an open window where I leave it to chug on for perhaps 30 to 40 minutes, sometimes longer. I wear a face mask when entering, switch off and leave for a further hour before returning with nitrile gloves and the mask to deal with the media and cases.

That's about as much as I do personally, but don't know, as it's unscientific beyond knowing it's toxic stuff, whether I should be doing more to limit any effects on health. The related subject includes barrel cleaning. How many, I wonder, bother with gloves? For years, I never bothered but now, reading what's in some of these cleaning agents (again, highly toxic in many cases) and repeated exposure to detonating compounds, lead and copper (both toxic) I shall be routinely wearing gloves and becoming less blasé about the whole thing.
 

Jagare

Well-Known Member
I've never thought about the health aspect of reloading. I do wear nitrile gloves when taking the clean cases out of the tumbler. I'm sure the amount I reloading is insignificant compared to the O P. Food for thought for people who bulk reloading.
 

ChesterP

Well-Known Member
Use nitrile gloves and be in ventilated areas. Not rocket science... things have moved on since being unsupervised cadets with bottles of old Hoppes.
True, but it's the largely invisible clouds of fine dust particles, ventilated or not, where you're most at risk, especially when tumbling. Interestingly, one of the recent studies I read suggests that in a controlled experiment, where they split shooters up into those using lead bullets and those using copper, it was the copper bullet users who exhibited the higher respiratory toxicity levels from the results of the internal/muzzle ballistics effects. They also cite that copper littering the countryside is more toxic to things like trees, where it's long since been known that copper has a detrimental effect on tree growth and can kill younger trees, plus is equally as toxic to some other flora and fauna. As often the case with all these regulatory changes, the rush to copper hasn't been thought through in sufficient detail.
 

caberslash

Well-Known Member
As often the case with all these regulatory changes, the rush to copper hasn't been thought through in sufficient detail.

Unfortunately, it's a decision motivated by politics and not science.

If I offered you a material which was was 50% more expensive and 50% less efffective than the current standard, and with an uncertain future with regards to availability, would you use it?
 

ChesterP

Well-Known Member
I don't want an electric car either :popcorn:

The world supply of copper is being stretched like never before so copper bullet prices are headed only one way.
 

JohnSmith

Well-Known Member
I don’t use gloves or a mask when sifting through my tumbler. Maybe I should be? Something to consider for sure. Ive always thought of my tumbler as the obnoxious loud noise coming from upstairs, not as a vibrating cloud of death.
 

Sharpie

Well-Known Member
Interestingly, one of the recent studies I read suggests that in a controlled experiment, where they split shooters up into those using lead bullets and those using copper, it was the copper bullet users who exhibited the higher respiratory toxicity levels from the results of the internal/muzzle ballistics effects. They also cite that copper littering the countryside is more toxic to things like trees, where it's long since been known that copper has a detrimental effect on tree growth and can kill younger trees, plus is equally as toxic to some other flora and fauna.
Facts and data on that one please. Point me to these "recent studies I have read". Otherwise I call it BS.

Regarding primer residues when cleaning cases (or breathing in gunsmoke at poorly ventilated indoor ranges), yes, I think it a genuine concern.

FWIW I dry tumble my cases, but my tumbler has a lid which seals, so whilst it is running very little dust escapes. I then turn it off, leave it for a while, any airborne dust settles inside, then open it and fish out the cases either with my fingers, or a wire mesh scoop.

I do not pour out the whole lot into a sifter to separate, nor leave it running with the lid off, whilst picking out the brass. That surely is a recipe for raising dust and breathing it in. Even spreading it around the house if done indoors.

I also wash my hands after reloading and do not eat stuff whilst I am doing so. Just being sensible.

As for other chemicals, e.g. cleaning stuff, I always wear (polyurethane actually) gloves, always have done, suffer from eczema and dermatitis, and try to avoid breathing in any fumes.
 

ChesterP

Well-Known Member
Facts and data on that one please. Point me to these "recent studies I have read". Otherwise I call it BS.

Regarding primer residues when cleaning cases (or breathing in gunsmoke at poorly ventilated indoor ranges), yes, I think it a genuine concern.

FWIW I dry tumble my cases, but my tumbler has a lid which seals, so whilst it is running very little dust escapes. I then turn it off, leave it for a while, any airborne dust settles inside, then open it and fish out the cases either with my fingers, or a wire mesh scoop.

I do not pour out the whole lot into a sifter to separate, nor leave it running with the lid off, whilst picking out the brass. That surely is a recipe for raising dust and breathing it in. Even spreading it around the house if done indoors.

I also wash my hands after reloading and do not eat stuff whilst I am doing so. Just being sensible.

As for other chemicals, e.g. cleaning stuff, I always wear (polyurethane actually) gloves, always have done, suffer from eczema and dermatitis, and try to avoid breathing in any fumes.

Google is your friend! It was a short while back when I was looking into it, with particular regard to respiratory risks and I didn't keep any records of the study so can't for the life of me remember the source, but I do remember it being quite comprehensive. It related more to the fumes from gunshots than from the toxicity presented by the bullet itself but interestingly found that copper jacketed steel core bullets were the worst offenders...perhaps more a military application?

I take a similar view to you but do wear a mask if decanting the tumbler media and now always wear nitrile gloves when handling the stuff and when cleaning barrels.
 
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Sharpie

Well-Known Member
I didn't keep any records of the study so can't for the life of me remember the source, but I do remember it being quite comprehensive. It related more to the fumes from gunshots than from the toxicity presented by the bullet itself but interestingly found that copper jacketed steel core bullets were the worst offenders...perhaps more a military application?
I'd still like to know to which study you were referring. A cursory Google didn't find anything.

Consider: Jacketed lead bullets are jacketed in gilding metal/tombac. 90-95% copper. I scarcely see how that would differ in any appreciable way from even a pure copper bullet, as far as any respiratory toxicity levels for the shooter.

However if it was a study into the use of the new military "green" ammo, I don't know. Interesting reading: Green bullet - Wikipedia I wonder if the new stuff also uses REACH compliant powders ?

Or maybe there might be some concern about lead free frangible training ammunition, largely made from copper and tin powder. Which I presume turns to dust in the training ranges.
 
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Dalua

Well-Known Member
Use nitrile gloves and be in ventilated areas. Not rocket science... things have moved on since being unsupervised cadets with bottles of old Hoppes.
Ha ha! I vivdly remember c. 1984 the short but fierce bearded schoolmaster who was also Cdr. RNR and o/c CCF emerging from the school armoury, billowing pipe in mouth, saying he'd leave the cadets to get on with the rifle-cleaning alone as Hoppe's was carcinogenic.

Mind you, we were still splashing carbon tetrachloride about in the labs in those days, and using aniline dyes to stain specimens for microscopy.
 

ChesterP

Well-Known Member
Ha ha! I vivdly remember c. 1984 the short but fierce bearded schoolmaster who was also Cdr. RNR and o/c CCF emerging from the school armoury, billowing pipe in mouth, saying he'd leave the cadets to get on with the rifle-cleaning alone as Hoppe's was carcinogenic.

Mind you, we were still splashing carbon tetrachloride about in the labs in those days, and using aniline dyes to stain specimens for microscopy.
Lol...the bad old days eh? We couldn't get away with half of what we used to do. Some down to the nanny state, some actually make a lot of sense now.
 
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