In 1999 the US Army began manufacturing "green" bullets. The bullets - which are used primarily for shooting practice during peace time - are as deadly to humans as their predecessors but less deadly to the Earth.
Lead bullets, which the Army currently uses, tend to bioaccumulate in the environment, often ending up in sediments, surface water, and groundwater, according to A Multimedia Strategy for the Management and Reduction of Lead Hazards released by the US Environmental Protection Agency Region 5. Accumulated lead can adversely affect wildlife and people who get their drinking water from a contaminated source, according to the report. Lead slugs are such a water quality hazard that the federal district court in New York ruled that spent lead shot is a "pollutant" as defined by the Clean Water Act.
The lead slugs the Army uses in traditional 5.56 mm bullets have been bioaccumulating at shooting ranges, forcing several to close. These slugs will be replaced with environmentally friendly tungsten-based slugs, according to Wade Bunting, project manager for environmental armament technologies at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. Not only is tungsten more environmentally "benign" than lead, but ozone depleting chemicals and volatile organic compounds have been eliminated from the bullet manufacturing process - resulting in pollution prevention and money savings, he says. Although tungsten is more expensive than lead, the cleanup of the manufacturing process actually will result in savings of $0.01 to $0.05 per round, or $5 million to $20 million per year, he explains.
The bullets also will allow several indoor and outdoor shooting ranges that closed because lead concentrations became a human health or environmental hazard to reopen, cutting down the costs of transporting troops to far away, still-operational shooting ranges and eliminating associated pollution he adds.
This year about 1 million green bullets will be produced, Bunting says. Priority distribution of the bullets will be given to closed shooting ranges and to a new National Guard shooting range near Gnome, Alaska, that has not been contaminated by lead bullets, he continues. Next year, the Army will produce 5 million to 10 million green bullets and after that up to 200 million each year, he adds.