Tungsten Ammunition: Not Necessarily So Green

The U.S. Army, among others, has been using ammunition made from tungsten alloy metals in an attempt to find a “green,” non-lead ammunition.

It looks like the search may just have to continue, based on research recently published in the scientific journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

Scientists had thought tungsten was relatively non-toxic, and that, once in the environment (as in an expended bullet) the metal stayed intact and didn’t leach into the surrounding soil. Yet, several years ago researchers found tungsten in groundwater at Camp Edwards, a Massachusetts National Guard base that switched over to tungsten-nylon training ammunition in the 1990s.

In this latest research, as reported by United Press International, “Laboratory mice given drinking water containing small amounts of a tungsten compound were examined to see where in their bodies the tungsten ended up.  Researchers found the highest concentrations of tungsten were found in the spleen, one of the main components of the immune system, and in bone marrow, the initial source of all the cells of the immune system.”

The next step was to determine if tungsten may in fact harm a mammal’s immune system.  If that was found to be the case?  You can remove the word “green” from any discussion of tungsten ammo!

Sources:  UPI 4/6/11

Camp Edwards, found in groundwater 2006


The Gun Digest Book of Green Shooting

3 thoughts on “Tungsten Ammunition: Not Necessarily So Green

  1. Blake

    My personal belief is that tungsten is the root cause of GWS.

    The ‘Green Ammo Program’ as it was euphemistically called, had its origins in the 1st Gulf War. Post the war veterans began to exhibit broad ranging and multiple physical symptoms and nervous disorders typical of nerve system damage of heavy metals poisoning, and not previously seen on in veterans. Health physics studies could not tally the levels of apparent toxicity observed in veterans, who at teh time we largely strong and healthy young men, with the likely exposure levels encountered on the 20/21st centre battlefield.

    In its wisdom and erring on the side of caution the Pentagon decided to reduce or remove heavy metals from its weapons systems as far as was practical. This was indeed no small task, as on the modern battlefield the aim of each side is to kill its opponents by throwing large amounts of something heavy at each other at speed. Tungsten being very dense made very excellent and indeed nasty killing projectiles whether as tungsten alloy of even just tungsten powder alone.

    IMHO where they really screwed up was, in a total faux pas of epistemology, reaching the naive assumption that as so little was publicly know about the toxicity of tungsten – it must be non-toxic. However, an over looked aspect of its toxic properties were the papers that indicated that tungsten causes short term molybdenum deficiency and was as a consequence an immuno-suppressant – and potential cancer accelerant. So imagine the scenario: G.I. Joe goes into battle. He’s exposed to all sorts of toxic vapours from what the enemy is throwing at him as well as the toxins in his own weapons system. What is probably happening is just when he’s being exposed to some of the worse physical and environmental conditions of his life, his immune system is being turned off such that the physical effects to his body of all those pollutants are an order of magnitude higher than they would be.

    Its a very plausible theory that fits all symptoms and the proposition of dispropotional suseptibility to harm from the other heavy metals and other pollutants and its serious enough that scientists are looking into the epidemiology of the post war ‘Basra cancer cluster’.

    If your interested in reveiwing the raw data on tungsten as it was avaiable pre 2000, you can find in at: http://cylenchar.com/AmmoMaterialsRiskII.pps

    It’ll make you think long and hard about anything sold as ‘non-toxic’ again.

  2. SmithKoWitz

    Lead may not be a harm like Tungsten is in the groundwater, but it is a harm when you absorb it into your body. Pretty much everything mankind makes, has some negative impacts. We must weigh the benefits against the drawbacks and do whatever we can to minimize the negative impacts. One of the biggest issues as always; getting the straight dope on the impacts and not some skewed BS.

  3. vishnu

    What you should also note is that the switch to “green” bullets was due to concern about lead getting into the environment. The tungsten was found in groundwater at about the same time it was determined that lead was NOT getting into the system. This confirmed what non-“bleedingheart” environmental scientists knew all along. Massive, elemental lead (as in bullets) is not a hazard, even in humid environments with acidic groundwater.

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