Lead contamination of firing ranges, both indoor and outdoor, has been a continuing and serious problem. The (US) National Bureau of Standards claims that 80% of airborne lead on firing ranges comes from the projectile, whilst the remaining 20% comes from the combustion of the lead styphnate primer mixture.
In the early 1980s, a concerted move was made towards eliminating this health hazard, especially at training facilities and indoor ranges.
The problem over lead being torn off a plain lead bullet as it passed down the bore and lead being volatilized from the base in normally jacketed bullets still existed with the concomitant toxic levels of lead in the air.
To counter this, manufacturers produced a totally jacketed bullet (TMJ, Total Metal Jacket; FMJ, Full Metal Jacket) which had a thick coating of gilding metal electroplated over the lead core. However, as the bullet core was still made from lead, it would, on impacting with the butts, disintegrate leading to the release of large quantities of lead dust. As a non-toxic training round, TMJ bullets were not entirely successful.
As a result, virtually every major ammunition manufacturer now has a line of frangible and/or non-toxic small arms ammunition.
There appears, however, to be some confusion between frangible ammunition and non-toxic ammunition. To delineate between these two rounds, it must be understood that whilst frangible ammunition may be loaded with non- toxic materials, frangible projectiles completely turn to powder upon impact with any surface that is harder than the bullet itself. However, non-toxic projectiles can ricochet or splash back akin to a conventional bullet.
Many alternative substances are presently being used in the manufacture of frangible or non-toxic ammunition, for example, iron powder; zinc; tungsten; combinations of nylon, zinc and/or tin coupled with tungsten; bismuth; copper and bullets containing steel cores.
Whilst copper and steel both have the desired weight factor, these bullets are much harder than lead, causing a serious ricochet factor or bullets which may return back down the line of flight to the firing line.
In soft tissue, a frangible bullet performs in exactly the same way as a full metal-jacketed bullet, which clearly makes it a lethal round. Frangible ammunition is, however, an ideal round to use on indoor ranges due to the elimination of ricochets and splash back.
Frangible bullets have been in production since 1845 in the form of compressed iron or lead dust. These were designed for use in the Flobert indoor target ranges and fired from rimfire weapons known as 'saloon' or ' parlour' pistols and rifles. The rounds were designated conical ball (CB) cap and bulleted breech (BB) cap.
In 1975, Glazer Co. introduced the Glazer safety slug. This was simply a gilding metal jacket filled with no. 12 birdshot (0.05"). The voids between the shot were filled with Teflon, and a flat polymer cap sealed the front end of the casing. To improve ballistic performance, a polymer- tipped ball round was introduced in 1987. The current compressed core form was first sold in 1988.
The formation of the polymer was also changed in 1994 to improve fragmentation reliability.
On hitting the target, the jacket broke open distributing the shot inside the target. It was thus a non- ricocheting round which completely removed any chance of over-penetration. However, being filled with lead shot, it was hardly non-toxic.
Current situation. As with non-toxic lead shot, frangible and non-toxic bullets are areas of intense research, and the development of new combinations of binding agents and metals is ongoing with new combinations being released on a virtually weekly basis
Some of the currently available non-toxic and frangible bullets follow:
Blount/speer ZNT. These rounds are made with lead-free primers and feature a newly designed projectile.
The projectile has a fluted copper jacket combined with a cast zinc alloy core and is designed to break into small pieces upon impact with steel targets, backstops or other similar objects.
Delta Frangible Ammunition, LLC. Delta Frangible Ammunition (DFA) produces a line of frangible cartridges utilizing a nylon composite bullet. The nylon projectile will break apart into small pieces upon impact with hard surfaces, resulting in the reduced penetration of objects which are not intended to be penetrated.
DFA also has a reduced ricochet potential, reduced maximum range capability, and eliminates airborne lead contamination and lead-contaminated environments.
Currently, DFA provides these bullets which are then loaded and distributed by Winchester for law enforcement use only.
Longbow, Inc. Longbow's frangible bullet made of a polymer-copper compound. This is claimed to completely eliminate ricochet and splash back and to be non-toxic.
Remington Arms Co., Inc. Remington manufactures a lead-free frangible bullet called the Disintegrator.
The Disintegrator's lead-free bullet design provides instant and complete break-up upon impact, with no ricochet or lead accumulation. Furthermore, the totally lead-free primer eliminates the hazards of airborne lead residue in enclosed ranges. Point of impact and recoil performance reportedly duplicates that of equivalent standard duty ammunition.
Blount Clean-Fire Ammunition. Whilst Blount's Clean-Fire ammunition is not totally non- toxic or lead- free, it does eliminate airborne lead with a totally metal-jacketed bullet. It also has a priming mixture that contains no lead, barium, antimony or other toxic metals.
Federal cartridge company BallistiClean. This ammunition uses a copper-jacketed zinc core bullet, a non-toxic copper-coloured primer and is loaded in brass cases headstamped 'NT'. The primer mix is of particular interest as it contains no heavy metals or toxic metals; instead, the primer mix contains diazodinitrophenol (DDNP) as the primary explosive instead of lead styphnate. Furthermore, the oxidizer is calcium silicate instead of barium and strontium compounds. This round is reportedly the first completely toxic metal-free line of ammunition to be developed.
Winchester Ammunition Super Clean NT. Winchester has introduced a new line of training ammunition called 'Super Clean NT' - using tin instead of zinc, which is used in frangible ammunition. The bullets are a jacketed soft point type, non- toxic and lead- free, and specifically designed to eliminate pollution from lead dust. Additionally, they are loaded with a primer that is lead-free and does not contain heavy metals.
Winchester has also introduced a new clean centre fire pistol ammunition primarily designed for indoor ranges called 'WinClean'. WinClean incorporates Winchester's latest generation primer which is lead-free and heavy metal-free. The cartridge features a TMJ bullet.
Remington UMC leadless. Remington now offers UMC (Union Metallic Cartridge) leadless pistol and revolver ammunition. The bullet with a flat nose enclosed base (FNEB) bullet design prevents the hot expanding propellant gases from vaporizing lead from the bullet 's base.
FrangibleBullets.com. FrangibleBullets.Com projectiles are manufactured using a compressed copper/tin powdered metal. The bullets are then heat treated in a nitrogen furnace and then tumble polished. This results in a non-lead bullet with no jacket or core.
SinterFire ammunition. SinterFire produces a range of copper/tin based frangible non-toxic bullets containing a 'dry lubricant'. The Cu/Sn sintered powder is compressed then heated in an inert atmosphere.
Très Haute Vitesse (THV). The French THV bullet is made from phosphor bronze. Intended as an ultra-high-velocity metal-penetrating round, it is, however,
Figure 2.15 French THV (Très Haute Vitesse) phosphor bronze bullet.
essentially a non-toxic bullet. The primer was of the normal lead styphnate type (Figure 2.15).
Chinese 7.62 x 25 mm pistol round. Up until about 1985, the standard 7.62 x 25 mm round of ammunition consisted of a very heavily copper-coated steel jacket surrounding a lead core. After that date, the military changed its specification to a sold steel bullet with a copper wash. There was not a copper or gilding metal gas check to take up the rifling, merely two raised band of steel about 1 mm high and 1 mm across. After 50 rounds, the rifling of the Type 54 pistol, for which this round was intended for use in, completely disappears.
Whilst this bullet is ' non-toxic', it was introduced simply to save on manufacturing costs. The primer, however, was definitely not and often contained mercury.
KTW. In the mid- 1970s, KTW (from the last names of the inventors, Dr Paul J. Kopsch, Dan Turcus and DonWard) brought out a range of metal penetrating rounds including 0.357 Magnum, 0.30 Carbine, 9 mm PB and 0.380 ACP. Originally, the bullets were made from sintered tungsten and were coated in bright green Teflon to enhance the penetration. To prevent barrel wear and to take up the rifling, there was a gas check on the base of the bullet. In the late 1980s, the tungsten was replaced with a hardened phosphor bronze. Once again, the bullet was coated in green Teflon. Whilst this round was intended for metal penetrating, it was, essentially, non-toxic. The primer, however, was not, as it contained lead styphnate.
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