When the last bullet-producing lead smelter closes its doors on Dec. 31, it will mark a major victory for those who say lead-based ammunition pollutes the environment, but others warn ‘green’ bullets will cost more, drive up copper prices and do little to help conservation.
The bid to ban lead bullets, seen by some as harmful to the environment, started slowly more than a decade ago. But with two dozen states, including California, banning bullets made of the soft, heavy metal, the lead bullet’s epitaph was already being written when the federal government finished it off.
First, the military announced plans to phase out lead bullets by 2018.
Then the federal Environmental Protection Agency, citing emissions, ordered the shutdown of the Doe Run company’s lead smelter in Herculaneum, Mo., by year’s end.
Whether by state or federal regulation, or by market forces, lead bullets will be all but phased out within a few years in favor of so-called green bullets, experts say. While many believe that this will help the environment by keeping lead from contaminating groundwater, others say switching to copper-based bullets will cost hunters and sportsmen more and have little effect on the environment.
“Whatever the EPA’s motivation when creating the new lead air quality standard, increasingly restrictive regulation of lead is likely to affect the production and cost of traditional ammunition,” the National Rifle Association said in a statement
Critics of lead bullets say that in addition to lead finding its way into the water supply and food chain, people who handle ammunition have been found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. Lead poisoning harms organs and tissues and can result in brain damage.
“Switching to nontoxic lead ammunition will save the lives of eagles, condors and thousands of other birds every year – and, importantly, will keep hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead,” the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a phaseout of lead bullets for hunting by July 2019.
The Army has been researching a more environment-friendly bullet at the Picatinny Arsenal, in New Jersey, since 2010. A lead-free version of the 7.62-mm rounds fired from M-14 rifles will be issued to troops in 2014. That will follow a prior switch to a greener 5.56 mm “Enhanced Performance Round” the Army switched to in 2010..