Lead Ban ChroniclesI’ve been quietly monitoring this for a while, hoping it would turn out differently, but it looks like the research is coming out against Tungsten as a replacement for lead bullets. This is certainly the case in military applications, but I haven’t heard much yet about hunting ammo.

Anyway, here’s a bit from the Wired news blog:

In the 1990′s the U.S. Army introduced a new set of “green” training ammunition designed to be less toxic and more environmentally friendly than the lead-filled rounds used before. But these new bullets may have left firing ranges contaminated and exposed soldiers to a new health hazard. Soon-to-be-released research suggests that a key element in the new ammo, once thought to be safe, may in fact be carcinogenic. The Army has stopped production of the bullets.

All of this is still a little preliminary, and research is still underway, but it’s not looking good.  According to the reports, the Army has used more than 90 million rounds of Tungsten ammo since they started using it in the mid-1990s.  tungsten_ban

The irony is that the switch from traditional lead was motivated by environmental concerns about lead leaching into groundwater.  Use of lead bullets in training applications was completely halted at training ranges when it was found that the tungsten bullets actually broke down and showed up in the groundwater even faster than lead.  The new concerns are reflected in this paper from the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials Federal Facilities Research Center Policy & Technology Focus Group which says, in part: 

Over the past years, soil and groundwater samples collected at certain small arms ranges have demonstrated that tungsten is very mobile and soluble once it is released into the environment. In addition, limited yet important health studies have also revealed that tungsten may pose risks to humans and ecological receptors, as noted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) 2008 Agenda: Literature Searches and Request Information.  This information is the EPA’s first documented step in its evaluation of this constituent (US EPA 2008a).

This information, coupled with knowledge of numerous shipments delivered at approximately 40 installations nationwide, has compelled the military to abandon the production of tungsten/nylon bullets and look to other “green ammunition” alternatives, including resuming lead bullet firing.  …

This definitely bears watching.  As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been any mention of tungsten hunting ammo (it’s commonly used in non-toxic waterfowl loads), but you can bet that it will be coming down the pike if this military ammo thing continues to get traction.  From what I’ve read so far, the risks from tungsten are a heck of a lot more serious and immediate than those of lead. 

More to come…

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