Toxic effects of gunshot fumes from different ammunitions for small arms on lung cells exposed at the air liquid interface

January 14, 2021

Espen Mariussen a,b, Lise Fjellsbø a,c, Tomas Roll Frømyr b, Ida Vaa Johnsen b, Tove Engen Karsrud b, Øyvind Albert Voie b
a Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU), PO Box 100, NO-2027 Kjeller, Norway
b Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), PO Box 25, NO-2027 Kjeller, Norway
c Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), PO Box 5003, NO-1432 Ås, Norway


•Gunshot fumes are cytotoxic and induce DNA-damage in lung cells exposed at the air liquid interface.
•Shooting from small arms generate fumes with substantial amounts of nanosized materials.
•Toxicity of the gunshot fumes differed between different types of ammunition.


Concerns have been raised as to whether gunshot fumes induce prolonged reduced lung capacity or even cancer due to inhalation. Gunshot fumes from three different types of ammunition calibre 5.56 mm × 45 NATO were investigated. SS109 has a soft lead (Pb) core, while NM255 and NM229 have a harder steel core. Emissions from ammunitions were characterized with respect to particle number- and mass-size, and mass distribution, heavy metal content, and different gases. Lung epithelial cells were exposed to the fumes at the air liquid interface to elucidate cytotoxicity and genotoxicity. Irrespectively of ammunition type, the largest mass fraction of generated particulate matter (PM) had a size between 1 and 3 μm. The highest number of particles generated was in the size range of 30 nm. Fumes from NM255 and NM229 induced cytotoxic effects of which the emission from NM229 induced the highest effect. Fumes from NM229 induced a dose-related increase in DNA-damage. Significant effects were only achieved at the highest exposure level, which led to approximately 40% reduced cell viability after 24 h. The effect probably relates to the mass of emitted particles where the size may be of importance, in addition to emission of Cu and Zn. A complex mixture of chemical substances and PM may increase the toxicity of the fumes and should encourage measures to reduce exposure.

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