Firing Ranges


July 21, 2014

If you are reading this, it is probably not a big surprise that lead at shooting ranges is under the gun (pun intended). At outdoor ranges, lead residues can accumulate in soil over a period of many years and decades, after the lead pellets, bullets, and bullet fragments have oxidized and dissolved into the soil-water matrix. We have found the highest soil lead concentrations to be in the face and the toe-of-the-slope of backstops for bullets, and 400-600 yards down range at skeet and trap ranges. But we often find elevated, albeit lower, soil lead concentrations close to the firing line. Lead residues in the air at the firing line in indoor ranges is also a concern. We speculate that these residues are a combination of atomized lead and lead from the primer. Historically, primers have been lead azide and lead styphnate. But we may be shooting with no-lead primers in the future.

A German research team has caused renewed focus on this issue. A lead styphnate replacement called KDNP (a highly energetic nitrobenzofuroxan) had previously been patented (Fronabarger et al., 2011), which the US Navy seeks to commercialize ( click here ). More recently, the German group (Fischer et al., Angewandte Chemie Intíl Ed., 2014) published the synthesis of K2 DNABT (a nitramino-bistetrazole), and determined that it would be a suitable replacement for lead azide, with good thermal stability. Costs for scale-up and commercialization are unknown.

Stay tuned.


(updated April 19, 2012)

In 2010, a coalition of five diverse organizations led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the US EPA to ban all lead shot, bullets, and fishing sinkers under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The EPA denied the petition, stating that it did not have the authority under TSCA to implement such a ban (see below).

On March 13, 2012, the CBD submitted a similar petition, but with the following significant differences: it seeks stringent regulation rather than an outright ban, deferring to the EPAís judgment in a risk/benefit analysis (TSCA is a risk/benefit statute); it has over 100 supporting organizations; and it provides more legal analysis to support the EPAís authority to regulate lead in this context. The new 2012 EPA petition can be found on CBDís website.

Meanwhile, the US House Natural Resources Committee passed a bill February 29 that would block the EPA from taking actions recommended in the petition (H.R. 4089, the Sportsmenís Heritage Act of 2012). H.R. 4089 is a compilation of four bills, one of which would amend TSCA to clarify the generally held belief that TSCA does not give the EPA the authority to regulate lead in ammunition and fishing tackle. The bill was passed by the Committee by a vote of 27-16, but it still has to be approved by the full House, the Senate, and the President.

April 19, 2012 Update

The US EPA denied the new, 2012 CBD request to regulate lead bullets and shot in an April 9 letter to the CBD. The requested regulatory action would be under section 6(a) of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The EPA (Mr. Jim Jones) stated that the proposed alternative regulatory approach was ". . . a distinction without a substantive difference" compared with the CBDís 2010 petition.

2010 Petition

In early August, 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity, the American Bird Conservancy, and three other organizations petitioned the EPA to regulate lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA; see our TSCA web page). They cited literature indicating that more than 130 species of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles have been adversely affected by orally ingested lead ammunition.

The EPA denied the petition on August 27. The EPA stated that it has addressed lead in the environment in many ways, and that it does not have the authority - - nor is it seeking the authority - - to regulate lead ammunition.

Subsequently, the original petitioners filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA's decision. On November 23, the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced its intention to file a motion to intervene. The NSSF stated, among other things, that there is no scientific evidence that lead ammunition has adversely impacted wildlife populations.

May 29, 2013 Update

The NRA-ILA (Institute for Legislative Action) on May 24, 2013 posted that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the lawsuit. Federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan dismissed the Center for Biological Diversityís (CBDs) 2012 lawsuit and indicated that he would defer to EPAís determination that the agency was not congressionally authorized to regulate lead-based ammunition, which was not an accident when the TSCA was passed in 1976. Pro-gun legislators specifically added language to the 1976 bill to exempt ammunition from the EPAís control. Judge Sullivan found that the petition was nothing more than an attempt to seek reconsideration of the 2010 petition. The Judge ruled on procedural grounds and was not required to address CBDís flawed legal argument. The CBD contended that bullets and shot are not within the exception for "shells and cartridges!" (The TSCA has an exclusion that puts "shells and cartridges" outside the EPAís regulatory scope.)

Stay tuned to our website. We will keep you informed of this critical issue.