"Many lead-free options"
Going Green: Non-toxic Training Ammo
By: Eugene Nielsen
Lead is a toxic heavy metal
that shooters are exposed to every day. Indoor shooting ranges pose the
greatest risk. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health (NIOSH), lead exposure occurs mainly through inhalation of lead fumes or
ingestion (e.g., eating or drinking with contaminated hands).
Lead causes severe health
effects at even relatively low levels in the body. It damages the brain,
nervous system, kidneys, heart, reproductive system, and interferes with
hemoglobin production. It also affects behavior. At typical levels of exposure,
the blood, brain, and nervous system are primarily affected. The effects are
The gradual onset of symptoms
of lead poisoning and the lack of specificity of the symptoms, which often
affect more than one part of the body at a single time, result in lead
poisoning often being misdiagnosed. The classic textbook physical signs of lead
poisoning may not even be present.
The symptoms of lead
poisoning are often vague. Unless the patient raises the issue of lead
poisoning or the doctor is extremely suspicious and the appropriate testing is
done, lead poisoning will go unrecognized. The margin of safety between
measured blood lead levels and the levels that cause clinical symptoms is
Shooters and their families
are exposed to lead residues from two sources¾the lead in the cartridge priming compound and lead in the bullet. When
a cartridge primer detonates and the powder charge is ignited, a cloud of lead
particles is expelled into the air and onto the shooter’s hands. Additional
lead particles are sheared off the bullet as it travels down the barrel and is expelled
into the air at the muzzle. Lead is also expelled into the air when the bullet
impacts the target.
When lead particles are inhaled
into the lungs, they are absorbed into the bloodstream. Approximately 50
percent of the lead that’s inhaled reaches the bloodstream. Lead residues on
the skin or in the hair can be absorbed through the pores. If any lead is
ingested through the mouth, it will be absorbed through the intestines and
enter the bloodstream.
The amount of ingested lead
that reaches the bloodstream will vary depending on the form of the lead. While
approximately 10 percent of ingested lead reaches the bloodstream, 100 percent
of ingested lead salts reaches the bloodstream.
According to the National
Bureau of Standards, lead bullets are the source of 80 percent of the airborne
lead at indoor firing ranges. Although primers are the source of only 20
percent of the airborne lead, the airborne lead from primers is much finer and
more easily absorbed into the bloodstream when inhaled. The risks from ingestion
of lead is also greater, since lead salts are formed when a lead syphnate
primer is ignited.
Lead isn’t the only health hazard
from conventional primers. Lead styphnate primers and some lead-free primers
contain barium nitrate as an oxidizer. Antimony is another health hazard found
in conventional primer mixes.
It doesn’t take much lead to
cause lead poisoning. Only 0.16-grain of lead in the bloodstream can result in
acute lead poisoning. That is just 1/1000th of the amount of lead in a single
38 Special / 357 Magnum 158-grain lead semi-wadcutter bullet.
Chronic poisoning from
exposure to low-levels of lead is more common than acute poisoning. Lead
exposure is cumulative. Lead can gradually build up in the body over time,
reaching toxic concentration after years of exposure.
OSHA standards require occupational exposure to lead to be limited to under 50
mcg per cubic meter, based on an eight-hour time weighted average. Inorganic
lead levels of up to 18,000 mcg per cubic meter have been recorded at indoor
shooting ranges without adequate ventilation and filtration.
Lead-free “green” ammunition
was first introduced by CCI-Speer nearly 30 years ago. Today, lead-free
ammunition is available from most major ammunition companies.
Be aware that not all “lead-free”
ammunition is truly lead-free. Ammunition with lead-free bullets may or may not
contain non-toxic, lead-free primers. Many lead-free rifle rounds utilize conventional
lead styphnate primers¾only the bullet is
lead-free. This is also true of many lead-free frangible pistol rounds.
Non-toxic ammunition utilizes
lead and heavy metal-free primers contain and the bullets either contain no
lead or, if the bullet has a lead core, the bullet is totally enclosed in
In the past, non-toxic
primers have generally been less reliable than lead styphnate primers. The
sensitivity of non-toxic primers has significantly improved. Many non-toxic
primers now replicate the sensitivity of standard primers. Nonetheless,
ammunition with non-toxic primers is still generally considered best suited for
training purposes and not recommended for duty use.
ATK Federal LE and Speer LE
Federal BallisticClean® RHT®
is a non-toxic line of ammunition designed for indoor training. It features
frangible lead-free RHT bullets. Made of compressed, sintered powdered copper,
RHT bullets are designed to break up immediately upon contact with metal
targets, reducing the danger of ricochet and backsplash.
features a toxic-metal-free CCIÒ Clean-Fire primerÒ that is fee of lead, barium and antimony. It
eliminates airborne lead and reduces barrel fouling. BallisticClean RHT
ammunition eliminates hazardous waste disposal problems and meets all OSHA and
EPA standards. Felt recoil, accuracy and point of impact are comparable to
service ammunition. The tip of each RHT bullet is distinctively marked and the
case bears a “NT” (Non-Toxic) head stamp that identifies BallisticClean RHT at
Federal also offers a
non-frangible open-tip match version: BallisticClean Lite Open Tip Match. It
features toxic-metal-free CCI Clean-Fire primer and lead-free open-tip match
bullet. It is the first lead-free bullet designed to be accurate out to past
200 yards. Federal BallisticClean Lite Open Tip Match is available in available
in 223 Remington.
American EagleÒ Indoor Range Training IRT® features a
toxic-metal-free CCI Clean-Fire primer and a reduced-lead bullet that’s
encapsulated in copper to eliminate any airborne lead hazard. It’s the
ballistic equivalent of duty rounds.
Speer LawmanÒ Clean-FireÒ TMJÒ & Lawman RHT Clean-Fire ammo employs re-loadable
high-value brass cases with toxic metal-free CCI Clean-Fire primers and Speer
TMJ bullets. TMJ bullets feature electrochemical copper plating over a lead
core. The plating totally encases the lead and eliminates jacket separation. Speer
Lawman Clean-Fire is also available with RHT frangible bullets. Both rounds are
designed to replicate duty load performance.
Speer LE Blazer Clean-Fire®
offers the benefits of Clean-Fire but at a much lower price. It differs from the other Clean-Fire rounds
in that it employs less-expensive, non-reloadable aluminum alloy cases.
Performance is identical in all other respects.
Fiocchi Exacta Match
Non-Toxic SinterFireÒFrangible pistol and
rifle ammo uses lead-free primers and lead-free frangible bullets. The bullets
are designed to break into many small pieces upon impact upon hard targets with
little energy to bounce back at the shooters. The bullet weight and velocity
are calibrated to duplicate the recoil and point-of-impact performance of
common defensive rounds.
PMC Silver Line eRangeÒ handgun ammo is made with non-toxic primers and
encapsulated metal jacket bullets to eliminate airborne lead. The PMC
reduced-hazard primers contain no heavy
metals (no lead, mercury, halogens, boron, barium, bismuth or strontium) and
exceed current EPA standards.
Spectrographic analysis of
the primer residue shows only trace amounts of potash, which is harmless and
actually acts as a fertilizer outdoors. The ammunition contains no materials
which can erode or damage barrels. It is ballistic ally identical to standard
PMC Frangible pistol and rifle
ammo is made with non-toxic primers and lead-free, SinterFire frangible
bullets. The bullets disintegrate into powder upon impact with a hard
Remington UMC LeadLessÔ handgun ammo is an alternative to lead ammunition. UMC Leadless ammo is designed to duplicate
the performance of conventional loads, while virtually eliminating lead
exposure to the shooter. This lead-free primer system replicates the
sensitivity and ballistics of standard lead-based primers.
UMC Leadless ammo features
Remington’s Flat Nose Enclosed Base (FNEB) bullet that prevents the hot
expanding propellant gases from vaporizing lead from the bullet’s base. UMC
Leadless ammo is offered in most of the popular range calibers. Standard bullet
weights duplicate the ballistics of conventional loads.
Winchester Super-X® Clean NTÒ handgun and rifle ammo is completely lead-free. It
features a specially designed soft point/tin-core bullet that is designed to
deliver excellent accuracy and functioning in all handguns and rifles, while
eliminating the down-range contamination associated with standard leaded
ammunition. SuperClean NT ammunition offers the same point-of-impact and
average 85-percent felt recoil of conventional duty rounds.
Winchester WinCleanÒ handgun ammo features a non-toxic, lead-free and
heavy metal-free primer and an enclosed base-lead core bullet to eliminate airborne
lead and heavy metals. It’s designed to duplicate the performance of duty
Nielsen provides investigative and tactical consulting services and is a former
officer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.