This study on lead exposure, which was highlighted by Bloomberg’s propaganda mouthpiece “The Trace,” is more of a compilation than original work, but I have little doubt that people who frequent indoor shooting ranges have higher blood lead levels than people who don’t. Just because these studies are being pushed by people who would love to shut down every shooting range in the country doesn’t mean the issue is fake. Here are the facts we face:
- There are no good alternatives for lead in bullets. There are other metals with similar properties, but they are considerably more scarce. It probably wouldn’t take the shooting community long to shoot up, for instance, all the bismuth that can be dug out of the earth, assuming we could even afford it.
- Bullets with steel cores, and cores made up of other less malleable but more common metals are problematic because they can be classified as armor piercing under the law. Additionally, they will tend to tear up range equipment more readily than softer lead core bullets. Typically lead free bullets are made of copper and copper alloys, but copper is more expensive and doesn’t perform as well as lead.
- There is currently no reliable alternative to lead styphnate and lead azide in primers. Well, there is one: good old mercury fulminate and potassium chlorate. But obviously mercury isn’t any better regarded for its environmental friendliness than lead, and these types of primers are corrosive. There have been advances in Non-Toxic (NT) primers, and they are getting better. The typical NT primers useÂ Diazodinitrophenol (DDNP) instead of lead styphnate or lead azide. The big issue with NT primers has been shelf stability and reliability.
Atomic lead is not nearly as dangerous as compounds of lead. The byproducts of primer combustion is vaporized atomic lead, and lead oxide. Lead oxide is readily absorbed by the human body and is mobile in soils. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever done a study to determine whether increases in blood lead levels or range contamination was primarily from primer byproducts, or from atomic lead found in bullets. I’d wager that most, and probably the vast majority of the lead exposure is coming from the primers. I think in the future it will be important to know because lead in primers is probably a solvable problem. Â The military is doing the bulk of the work trying to develop and study the performance of lead-free primers, and I expect in a few decades, there’s a good chance we’ll all be doing most of our shooting with NT primers, even if carry ammo still uses lead-based primers. The problem of elemental lead in bullets I believe can be successfully managed with good range practices. I suspect the primers are actually the bigger health and environmental issue.