Thursday, November 09, 2006

Guns, Bullets and Lead Pollution: "something" gone mad but what?

It is difficult to know what to make of the story Guard Seeks to End Ban on Lead Bullets which reports that the National Guard in the US wants to resume using lead bullets at Cape Cod despite a 9 year ban.

I am frankly at a loss to know how to comment on this story. There must be some "economics" in here somewhere although I suspect there is a lot more "politics".

This is undoubtably an important news story but there is something that strikes me as faintly absurd that while the US is training soldiers to kill people in foreign lands, and to indeed defend themselves when under attack from the "enemy" and to protect the free world, that there are such a large number of environmental "hoops" that the military has to jump through before "proper" training can take place.
The Guard is proposing a number of methods that officials say will contain the bullets and keep them from degrading and leaching into an underground reservoir that is a major source of the Upper Cape's water supply.

"We have a very high level of confidence . . . we will be able to train all of our soldiers in a compatible way with the environment," said Shawn Cody, director of environmental affairs for the Massachusetts National Guard.

After the ban in 1997, the approximately 6,000 New England guardsmen and women who train at Camp Edwards every year had largely been using tungsten ammunition, often referred to as green bullets, because it is lead-free and because the military believed that tungsten was insoluble. But in February, when small amounts of tungsten were discovered dissolved in groundwater below the base, the Guard stopped training with tungsten bullets and sought alternatives.

Other ammunition such as blanks and plastic bullets were determined to not be suitable for training, Guard officials said. Guard troops -- some of whom will be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan -- need to train with live ammunition, the officials said.

The article continues and describes how preserving the environment will be given some close attention:
The Guard has proposed two methods to capture the bullets before they can degrade in the environment. One would have soldiers fire into a rubber barrier called a bullet trap. An outer rubber layer would seal to prevent rain from entering and degrading the lead. Another rubber layer in the trap would collect the bullets.

Another system, still in tests, would cover the ground of a pistol range with sand, and soldiers would fire into the sand. A machine like a beach-cleaning device that vacuums up bottle caps and cigarettes, would suck up the bullets, officials said.

I suspect US environmental groups got it about right when:
Representatives of environmental groups said they wanted to learn more about the issue before commenting.

We have all heard about lead free petrol. I must say that lead free bullets is a new one on me. The full article is worth reading - comments welcome.


Adam said...

Yeah, quantifying the benefits of using live ammunition is rather a challenge when the benefit is producing better killers.

Still, I suppose the US Army needs all the friends it can get!

At least it hasn't got to the totally proposterous level where soldiers have to keep grid references of all their firefights so some big armoured hoover can come and clear up the mess.

Lars Smith said...

There are also problems with lead shotgun pellets. For example, in the Ebro delta in Spain, waterfowl are poisoned by ingesting lead pellets when feeding. Some countries have therefore banned lead pellets; steel is used instead.

Melanie said...

Lars, thats very interesting abotu Ebro delta. I used to use 45 lead bullets, and have been wondering about the effects of them.