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QUESTION: Can lead bullet fragments left in the body begin to decompose after many years? 12 Nov 2008 Florida, USA

Can you please clarify for me the following: Can lead bullet fragments left in the body begin to decompose after many years (9)?

A recent episode of an American television show, House- "The Itch" aired on 11/11/2008,  which is usually fairly concise, portrayed a patient with bullet fragments retained in the body after a gun shot wound. Years later they began to "decompose" and caused life threatening symptoms.

I have 2 such lead bullet fragments in the area of the left mastoid, which have been in place for over 9 years. I also have many of the symptoms listed on your site.

Any information you can give would be most appreciated.

Thank you in advance,


EMAIL TWO Sent: Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dear Ms O'Brien,

Thank you so much for your quick response to my question, and for the information you have provided. I will review the Info Pack that you have forwarded and also get in touch with the LLSBS. I am excited to have someone to discuss this problem with.

In answer to your question as to the television show, it was Fox Television's "House". The episode, titled "The Itch", aired on 11/11/2008. Link to I believe you can watch entire episodes on the web.

Again, thank you so much for your help,


ANSWER: 13 Nov 2008

Dear Diane,

Lead does not so much decompose (like food scraps turning into compost), although bullets can break into fragments and the lead can be "dissolved" by the body, thus making it available for absorption. The absorption of lead from bullet or shot fragments is apparently dependent on where the fragments are, and specifically how acidic that part of the body is - the synovial fluid in synovial joints being the worst case scenario.

Anyone with lead fragments lodged in their body should have regular blood lead testing done, in order to detect any absorption of lead into the blood stream, over time, from the fragments. It is a great shame that not many doctors seem to know this and it is therefore, by all accounts, up to the patient to ask for the tests.

I will email you our Info Pack on the dangers of a blood lead level above two micrograms per decilitre, and you are welcome to forward it to your doctor so that s/he can understand the need for ongoing assessment and management of your blood lead level.

Also, we have set up the Lodged Lead Shot or Bullet Support (LLSBS) Group at and if you would like to join, you can write to other people who have found appropriate medical management of their lodged lead fragments, and benefit from their support and answers to any questions which arise for you.

I would be very interested to know the name of the television show and the name or date of broadcasting of the episode, and I'm sure all the members of the egroup would be interested to know that too. The more appropriate information there is out there, the better.

All the best and good luck!

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O’Brien

see: Question: What are the lead poisoning risks of a lead pellet, bullet or shot lodged in the body?

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