It perhaps seems odd to be concerned about the environmental impact of a bullet when considering their deadly potential application. Nevertheless, when it comes to military and law enforcement training, officials have become concerned about precisely that. As a result, there is an ever increasing demand for “green ammo,” or in other words, training ammunition that matches the ballistic performance of lead rounds but without any of the toxicity of lead. It has been proposed that the U.S. troops in 2014 will begin using lead-free M-14 bullets and the military plans to completely eliminate the use of lead rounds by 2018.
What is Wrong with Lead?
In some respects, lead is a very useful material. It is widely available, cheap and relatively easy to process. Nevertheless, lead is infamous for its toxicity and we continue to discover more and more health problems linked to lead and lead-based products, leading to an increasingly strict regulatory environment regarding the use and sale of lead. The health effects of lead exposure vary greatly depending on the individual, duration of time passed since exposure, and the degree of exposure. Symptoms can include memory loss, numbness, insomnia, headache, mood disorders, disturbed mental functioning, and high blood pressure. Lead is also equally bad for wildlife and can poison ecosystems and water supplies alike.
Although lead is not present in high levels in the atmosphere generally, small amounts of lead particles are released into the air when discharging lead rounds. Particularly for indoor ranges, the cumulative effect on the air quality of all the shooters firing in a closed space can lead to a dangerous level of lead concentration in the air. Such ranges have to therefore spend a considerable amount on sophisticated air filtration systems to combat this issue.
When bullets were first invented, lead was the obvious choice material because of the effectiveness, hardness, and density of the metal in addition to its ease of processability. However, much less was known or understood regarding the toxicity of lead at that time.
With increased knowledge of the harmful effects of lead, the U.S. military has decided to use ammunition that is free of lead and with little environmental consequences. As an effective replacement, frangible ammunition may soon be the military’s exclusive ammunition of choice.
Frangible Ammunition: A Thriving Solution to Lead-free Ammunition
Frangible ammunition is not significantly different from standard ammunition, except for the projectile. Frangible ammunition consists of bullets that are made of metal powder filled polymers, or cast composite materials, as opposed to a lead core that is jacketed with copper. In addition to the positive environmental impact of such alternatives, frangible bullets also tend to powderize into small particles upon impact something harder with a target, which minimizes their diffusion for range safety, restricts ecological impact, and eliminates all shrapnel risk to the shooter, especially important for close-range training.
These bullets are frequently in use by shooters involved in close quarter battle training to keep ricochets at bay. They are generally composed of non-toxic metals and are often in use on eco-friendly ranges and other areas where lead toxicity is a concern. Ecomass Technologies has been a pioneer in the lead-free frangible ammunition market for more than a decade, and continues to work on developing its polymer technologies to expand its presence in the ammunition industry.