DEC plans to get the lead out

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Monday that it will phase out the use o
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Categories: Schenectady County

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced Monday that it will phase out the use of lead ammunition by its 464 law enforcement officers during firearms training.

The switch to lead-free ammunition — what the agency called “green ammo” — will save about 150,000 lead bullets a year potentially contaminating the environment. The DEC hopes other police agencies will follow its example in removing a source of toxic lead.

“DEC is committed to leading the way in finding new ways — large and small — to reduce the amount of contamination that is released into our environment,” DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said Monday.

The ammunition the DEC will be using is considered “green” in comparison to standard lead bullets because it is lead-free and includes non-toxic primers. The alternatives, such as copper/tin compounds, greatly reduce the impact of firearms training on the environment, DEC officials said, but it is slightly more expensive.

While the change will be made on the practice range, environmental conservation officers and forest rangers will still carry lead ammunition in the field, said DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren, because the green ammo isn’t suitable for some circumstances.

“The green ammunition alloys tend to fragment more on impact, which is what they’re designed to do,” Wren said.

Lead poisoning is a serious human health risk, DEC officials said, and inhalation or ingestion of lead dust while firing or handling lead-based ammunition is a potential pathway for exposure.

Lead can also enter the air and soil during firearms training, and lead in the soil can be washed into streams during storms, especially when firing ranges are near wetlands, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The DEC has 330 environmental conservation officers who train with firearms, as well as 134 forest rangers. All 464 officers must qualify on a firing range twice a year.

The practice ranges used by the DEC include the Region 4 range in Summit, Schoharie County, which is shared with the state Department of Correctional Services.

“This is a common-sense move that will have long-term positive impacts on the environment,” Wren said.

The DEC hopes other police agencies will follow its example. State police spokesman Lt. Glenn Miner said he was unaware of any discussions within that agency about making a change.

Federal law enforcement training centers have used primarily green ammo since 2004.

Other steps the DEC has taken to reduce lead in the outdoor environment include state requirements that only non-toxic shot be used in waterfowl hunting and a ban on the sale of lead sinkers for fishing line weighing less than half of an ounce.

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