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Going Green: Non-toxic Training Ammo

"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 often irreversible.

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 small.

Two Sources

Shooters and their families are exposed to lead residues from two sources


the 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.

Current 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 Ammo

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 primers


only 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 copper. 

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. 

BallistiClean ammunition features a toxic-metal-free CCI


Clean-Fire primer


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 a glance.

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 Eagle


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 Lawman






& 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 SinterFire


Frangible 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 eRange


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 duty ammo.

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 surface. 



Remington UMC LeadLess


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 NT


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 WinClean


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 loads.


Eugene Nielsen provides investigative and tactical consulting services and is a former officer. He may be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2013

Rating : 6.3

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