Warning: Tungsten bullets could be a health hazard

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

In the past tungsten has been considered non-toxic and more environmentally friendly than lead at shooting ranges. Recent research has shown that Tungsten is in fact toxic and potentially carcinogenic. Danger Room reports:

There have been growing concerns about tungsten for some years. An October 2008 Issues Paper from the state and federal waste managers’ group says that the “original position of the scientific community with regard to fate and transport, analytical testing and toxicology” of tungsten has “drastically changed.”

The report further warns: “Over the past years, soil and groundwater samples collected at certain small arms ranges have demonstrated that tungsten is very mobile and soluble once it is released into the environment. In addition, limited yet important health studies have also revealed that tungsten may pose risks to humans and ecological receptors.”

The Army has now stopped production of “green” tungsten ammunition:

The Army is concerned enough about possible risks that it has stopped making the tungsten ammo. “The U.S. Army developed a lead-free 5.56mm round during the mid 1990s with a tungsten-nylon alternate slug materiel. Environmental studies later determined that the tungsten-nylon combo had a possible environmental impact. The Army stopped production of its tungsten-nylon 5.56mm [rounds],” Tonya Townsell, a spokesperson for the Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, tells Danger Room. “The residual inventory of 5.56mm Tungsten-Nylon rounds is still available for use in training at lead-restricted sites as it is deemed safer than lead.”

While the majority of lead-free civilian tactical and hunting bullets are either solid copper or copper jacketed with a tin core, some bullets do use tungsten. Two examples are Barnes MRX Bullets and Extreme Shock Ammunition.

The core of Barnes’s premium long range hunting MRX bullet is made from a tungsten based compound called Silvex. One the Barnes website the compound is said to be “non-toxic”:

Screenshot from Barnes.com

The core of Extreme Shock frangible ammunition is made from a tungsten powder/flake compound called Ny-Trilium. It is also said to be non-toxic:

Screenshot from Extremeshockammo.net

I imagine some people are not going to be happy after paying a premium for ammunition that promised to be non-toxic, only to find it isn’t. Is this lawsuit material? I don’t know, but I do wonder how long it will take manufactures of tungsten bullets to remove the “non-toxic” text from their websites.

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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2 of 19 comments
  • Metal Fruit Metal Fruit on Dec 24, 2013

    If tungsten in the ground is so poisonous, why are we digging it up and making bullets out of it, lets just leave it in the ground where its safe and harmless.

  • Joseph Kool Joseph Kool on Jan 27, 2014

    All heavy metals are hazardous get over it