Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Speaking of Unintended Consequences, "Green" Bullets

From an article in the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners Journal, Volume 31 Number 4, Fall 1999, via Firearms Identification, as blogged in The Smallest Minority:
America's military is about to lock and load with new ammunition that's tough on enemies but easy on mother earth. It's known as the "Green Bullet", which is a new lead-free projectile that defense officials say is just as lethal as the standard 5.56mm without harming the environment. The Army led effort is designed to one day end the use of environmentally hazardous materials in small-arms munitions for all services.
The Green Bullet replaces Lead with Tungsten alloys. It can be more easily recycled than Lead. It doesn't have the infamy of Lead. And it certainly doesn't have the infamy that Depleted Uranium, another common ingredient in bullets, has. Green Bullets would be nice if they could reduce the amount of lead that is laying around on shooting ranges, hunt clubs, public forests, and so on. Not even to mention the unknown future price that will be paid for scattering depleted uranium in urban battlefields all over the world. So what is known about Tungsten, the ingredient that Green Bullets use instead of Lead?

According to a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives and referenced in a Popular Mechanics article online:
Previous work in this laboratory developed a rodent model system that mimicked shrapnel loads seen in wounded personnel from the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In this study, we used that system and male F344 rats, implanted intramuscularly with pellets (1 mm x 2 mm cylinders) of weapons-grade tungsten alloy, to simulate shrapnel wounds. Rats were implanted with 4 (low dose) or 20 pellets (high dose) of tungsten alloy. Tantalum (20 pellets) and nickel (20 pellets) served as negative and positive controls, respectively. The high-dose tungsten alloy-implanted rats (n=46) developed extremely aggressive tumors surrounding the pellets within 4-5 months after implantation. The low-dose tungsten alloy-implanted rats (n=46) and nickel-implanted rats (n=36) also developed tumors surrounding the pellets, but did so at a slower rate. Rats implanted with tantalum (n=46), an inert control metal, did not develop tumors. Tumor yield was 100% in both the low- and high-dose tungsten alloy groups. The tumors, characterized as high-grade pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcomas by histopathology and immunohistochemical examination, rapidly metastasized to the lung and necessitated euthanasia of the animal.
The Smallest Minority notes that "Rhabdomyosarcoma is a form of cancer most often found in children, and it's aggressive and deadly. The survival rate after 5 years is about 50%."

Summing up, Green Bullets will not cause Lead to leach into groundwater, but 100% of soldiers with Green Bullet shrapnel will get an extremely aggressive, metastasizing cancer that infests their bodies and kills half of them in five years, and kills more later.

It hardly seems worth it.

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