Due to its high density and malleable proprieties, lead metal is used for manufacturing ammunition.
Other forms of lead, like powders, compounds, mixtures, oxides and so on, have higher solubility, lower resistance to corrosion and significant negative impact on both the environment and human health.
Yes, lead metal is highly recyclable with low costs, making it convenient from an economic and environmental standpoint. For this reason, it is becoming increasingly common for shooting ranges around the world to collect spent lead ammunition for recycling.
The issue of lead in ammunition provides an easy target for groups against hunting and sport shooting to negatively influence public opinion. Stating that ammunition contaminates the environment and threatens human life, often on the basis of questionable evidence, gains attention and consensus very easily. Human health and the environment are not the real focus, the ultimate goal is to ban hunting and shooting activities.
The use of lead gunshot in the EU is already severely restricted in wetland areas, and this would be enough to manage the risks for the environment and human health, without imposing any further restrictions.
The use of lead in ammunition is also a concern outside the EU, driven by the same motivations and using the same methods to influence public opinion as in Europe.
In 1985 a law banned lead ammunition in California as it was considered the reason for the decline of the Condor species. After years of the ban being in place, it was noticed that blood lead levels of the Condors did not decrease, demonstrating that the causes of contamination lay elsewhere, such as lead paints (still present in remote areas even many years after they were banned), human micro trash and others.
Effects of lead ammunition on wildlife are negligible. Only in certain circumstances can high levels of lead shot come into contact with animal gastric juices and release metal ions. However, studies have demonstrated that even the death of a single bird from possible lead contamination does not necessarily impact the trend in the entire species.
Effects of lead ammunition on animal species are negligible if compared to human contamination of natural animal habitats, use of pesticides, predation, starvation, and diseases. All of these have a bigger impact on population size, growth and extinction. Besides, it should be noted that the majority of animals live in areas where it is almost impossible for lead shot to accumulate in large quantities, thus making the possibility of lead ingestion close to zero.
Yes, such game meat has negligible consequences on human health, and the average amount of game meat consumed is generally very low. However, to reduce the risk to almost zero it is sufficient to clean the entry wound of the projectile, since lead fragment dispersion is confined, and avoid marination with vinegar or other acid substances that might increase lead bioavailability. Furthermore, it must be remembered that, if eventually ingested, lead fragments cannot be directly absorbed by the human body because of their metal form: less than 1% is converted to ionic form and could potentially be absorbed by human tissues.
As reported by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the main sources of lead contaminants in the human body are cereals, vegetables, milk, soft drinks, tea, coffee, alcoholic drinks, water and food supplements rather than game meat.
Studies conducted by the Swiss Public Health Office and the Policlinico Hospital Foundation of Milan prove that the risk of increased blood lead levels in game consumers is not significant and is below the limits defined by the European Food Safety Authority.
Although manufacturers of ammunition are proposing a range of products that include non-lead projectiles and shot for specific niche uses, lead ammunition is difficult to replace because the internal, external and terminal ballistics performance of this metal is very difficult to achieve with other possible substances.
Generally, non-lead ammunition is not as malleable as lead ammunition, consequently they can damage specific parts of the firearm as they move through it. In addition, there is a high danger from gas overpressure increasing the risk of accidents for users. Moreover, because of its high density, lead ammunition maintains velocity and energy, which guarantees accuracy, especially over long distances. Thanks to its malleability, lead ammunition easily deforms and maintains weight ensuring exceptional energy transfer when hitting a target. At the same time, non-lead ammunition generally does not deform and break on impact, with hard objects maintaining energy and giving unpredictable rebound with the risk for hunters and shooters in terms of safety. Furthermore, many firearms produced before the 1980s, but still in use by many hunters and shooters, may not be suitable for firing with non-lead ammunition, and this may cause damage to the barrels which may eventually explode.
Due to the poor ballistic qualities of non-lead ammunition, the risks to users’ safety, the lack of lead alternatives for many ammunition calibres, and the cost to replace the barrels or to purchase a new firearm, a ban on lead ammunition in Europe would drastically reduce the number of people practicing hunting and sport shooting, thus damaging a sector that employs more than 600,000 people, with more than 1800 manufacturers, 200 distributors and 14,000 retailers and an economic value of 40 billion euros, including the revenues generated by hunting and shooting activities, as a whole, without considering the impact on the over 10 million hunters and sport shooters in Europe.
It would certainly increase the demand for other raw materials and cause supply problems, given the lower availability of the alternative raw materials. With a ban on lead ammunition there will be a more intensive use of energy to source scarce alternatives. Finally, with regard to energy consumption, it must be noted that the industrial costs of recycling lead is infinitely lower than the majority of its alternatives, mainly thanks to a low melting point. This also has also significant impact on the environment.