Earth-friendly ammo?

December 5, 2007 at 6:43 pm 1 comment

The Nov 26 issue of C&E News (p. 10) carries a story titled, “Getting the Lead Out of Bullets“. Concerns over lead poisoning from hunters’ ammunition were first raised many years ago and led to a 1991 nationwide ban in the use of lead shotgun pellets for waterfowl hunting. Lead-containing ammunition is still sold for other purposes, however, including deer hunting.

The poisoning scenario works something like this: Shotgun blast scatters lead pellets over a field. Animals eat the pellets mistaking them for food or the pellets break down into small compounds that get ingested by microorganisms. Either way, the poisonous metal finds its way into the food chain.

So how can green chemistry improve this state of affairs? By developing less toxic metal alloys to replace lead. Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory report that a new 57% tungsten-43% tin composite bullet can be produced by pressurizing tungsten and tin powders at 100,000 psi. The chemical makeup of the new bullets should even make it possible to “close the loop” and recycle used bullets. Tin melts at a much lower temperature than tungsten so heating a bullet will cause it to degrade into molten tin and solid tungsten which are easily separated and reused.


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