Raimon Guitart, lecturer in Toxicology at the UAB, and Vernon Thomas, emeritus professor of the University of Guelph, analysed in detail the environmental effects of using lead ammunition in shooting sports, in an article published in the AMBIO journal. Although the number of Olympic athletes specialising in these sports is reduced, and the ammunition is recovered and recycled after the competitions, there are many amateurs who practice this sport around the world, making it almost impossible to recover the ammunition after being used.
Researchers show that for these athletes practicing represents using approximately one thousand cartridges per person every week, with a yearly dispersal of 1.3 tonnes of lead. This metal represents a risk of contamination for the land and could poison animals, especially birds, since they confuse the ammunition with small stones and swallow them.
Although an alternative, non-toxic sports ammunition manufactured with steel has been available for ten years now, the International Olympic Committee leaves the regulations on ammunition to the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF), which only accepts lead ammunition in official competitions. That causes countries such as Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, in which lead ammunition is prohibited, to have to make exceptions in the training and competitions of their athletes.
The research points out that depending on the terrain, lead can dissolve and spread in subterranean waters, and later be absorbed by the vegetation. Cases have been described in which farming land was contaminated by lead originating from shooting sports in the Czech Republic, where the lead passed to cereal crops; in Finland, where blueberry fields were reported to be contaminated, and in New Zealand.
In addition to the lead, the research highlights that ammunition manufactured with this metal contains arsenic and antimony, two toxic metals which seep into the ground when the ammunition degrades and which also contributes to increasing the environmental risks of this sport.
According to the authors, the problem of using lead as ammunition could be solved before 2020, with new regulatory measures and by gradually replacing this toxic ammunition with steel.