Lead is one of the most diffused metal in the world, in a wide range of chemical forms.
Ammunition projectiles and bullets are obtained from metallic lead. However, metallic lead represents a small part of the total lead product range, which includes compounds, intermediates, oxides and so on. On the other end, metallic lead used in ammunition is a minimal part of the total metallic lead consumption, which includes different uses such as for manufacturing batteries, glass, ceramics and so on.
Lead can enter the human body by contact or through the intake of food (65%), water (20%) and air (15%). Only bioavailable lead can be absorbed by the human body, when ingested.
Lead coming from ammunition projectiles and bullets, even if ingested in fine fragments, cannot be absorbed directly by the human body because is in metallic form.
Moreover, the fragments of lead in game meat are concentrated in those areas which are regularly and completely eliminated with the usual practices of slaughter.
All food, water, soft drinks, tea, coffee, alcoholic drinks, food supplements contain bioavailable lead ions in varying amounts.
The European Food Safety Authority 2012 report states that “are foods consumed in the largest quantities like grains, milk products, vegetables, tap water that have the greatest impact on lead dietary exposure”.
EU Directives and Regulations today are not limiting any use of metallic lead in ammunition, while restrictions come from National/Regional decisions.
Within the EU REACH Regulation, after years of in-depth analysis, more than 600 substances are already included in restricted lists: metallic lead is not among them and can continue to be used without limitations.
The use of lead in ammunition is already highly regulated and its proper management minimizes possible negative impacts on environment and health. Lead shots and projectiles used both inside and outside shooting ranges are regularly collected and recycled, because metallic lead is a sustainable material which can be recycled an infinite number of times, and the available technologies make this process economically advantageous.
Metallic lead is a basic substance for the manufacturing of ammunition as it allows excellent ballistic performances and guarantees an optimal balance between performance, costs and safety of use.
The lead used in ammunition is subject to systematic requests for replacement with alternative materials, especially by non-governmental organizations, national and international political groups, as well as international conventions aimed at protecting the environment and animal species.
Some European and national authorities have in fact implemented rules limiting the period and methods of hunting and sport shooting.
Manufacturers of civil ammunition are continuously working to innovate and diversify their product range and in this regard several new materials have been made already available, not as generic substitutes of metallic lead, but as an additional offer aimed at some specific uses.
Since “lead-free” does not necessarily mean “problem-free“, it is important that the new materials proposed undergo and successfully pass the same technical and scientific tests conducted over time on lead so that their impact on both the environment and human health is considered “sustainable“.