Getting the lead out: GREEN AMMO

Ammo makers are loading green ammunition for both training and duty rounds

          It's a trendy term that's tossed around a lot, especially lately. Going "green" has come in tandem with an eco-focused movement that's encroaching on all industries. It's become not only an advertising pitch, but has secured a sudden presence in our nation, munitions notwithstanding.

     The Defense Department is required to buy "green" ammunition for use at training ranges. Eco-friendly rounds don't leach toxins and are far less costly to clean up than conventional ammunition.

     But what does it really mean to be green? And what exactly is green ammo?

     Bullet and cartridge manufacturers and shooting range compliance specialists discuss the green trend in ammunition and what it means to law enforcement training on the range and on duty.

Lead-free ammo

     Conventional ammunition is comprised of lead, a metal that can have many adverse affects to human and wildlife health by either direct or indirect exposure. Green ammunition does not contain lead or has limited use of the metal in its bullet, shot or primer.

     Stuart Cohen, who has a doctorate in chemistry, is a certified ground water professional and president of Environmental & Turf Services, says the concerns about lead's hazard to human health are real.

     "Lead has its greatest impact on humans as a developmental toxicant," Cohen explains. "In other words, the relative hazard to you or me while going down-range at a shooting range and accidentally getting a little dirt on our fingers and [ingesting it] is much, much less than that of a three-year-old doing the same thing."

     Direct exposure to lead includes instances like ingesting it as a result of physical contact with the metal. People can also be exposed to lead indirectly, such as if the particulate lead from an outdoor shooting range leaches into the groundwater and contaminates the water supply, Cohen continues.

     In the past, gasoline and paint contained lead. Lead was ingested by people through inhaling dust from these compounds or by ingesting lead after physical contact with lead-contaminated objects. The Environmental Protection Agency states lead is dangerous to children because they are more likely to put hands or other objects in their mouth and ingest lead, and because children are growing — their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the effects of lead poisoning. High levels of lead can cause "brain or nervous system damage, behavior and learning problems … slowed growth, hearing problems and headaches," in children according to an EPA fact sheet. In addition, lead poisoning can cause adults to have "reproductive problems, high blood pressure ... nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems and muscle and joint pain."

     Lead in gas and paint has since been restricted, but risk of exposure still exists if proper care is not taken with outdoor shooting ranges.

     Because of the threat that lead poses to the environment and subsequently, human and wildlife well-being, the "green," or more environmentally friendly, alternatives have recently gained momentum and presence in the munitions industry as some hunters, scientists, environmentalists and public health officials are concerned that the risk is too great to keep lead as the status quo ammo material. Alternatives can include copper, steel, tungsten and tin.

     Cohen has worked across several states with shooting ranges, consulting on federal compliance and environmental impact of chemicals. His company, Environmental & Turf Services, offers a range compliance reference guide for adapting and implementing OSHA and EPA standards on shooting ranges.

     He explains there are various problems with long term use of lead ammunition on shooting ranges, as well as complications to an abrupt change from lead to training rounds comprised of other materials.

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