NSSF, Sierra, ATK Not Worried By Lead Smelter Closure

Virgin lead ingots.

The closure of the last primary lead smelting plant in the United States in Herculaneum, Missouri will not have any noticeable effect on ammunition supplies or prices, NSSF and ammunition manufacturers say. Why are they pulling a Clark Gable-like “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn?” Because the U.S. ammunition industry has reached a recycling milestone that even patchouli-scented, free-range organic vegan Birkenstock Bolsheviks can only dream of: they use nearly 100% recycled lead . . .

Recycled automotive batteries.

The distinction here is that Doe Run is only shutting down its ‘primary’ lead smelter. This smelter turns lead ore into primary lead ingots. Some electronic and scientific applications require this extremely pure ‘virgin’ lead, but ammo makers don’t care. They don’t mind a higher level of impurities as long as the final mix has the right density and hardness, so they get their lead from ‘secondary’ smelters instead. Doe Run has no plans to shut down its secondary lead smelter, but even if it did there are many other secondary lead smelters in the U.S.

TheBlaze contacted ATK and Sierra, as well as smaller cast bullet companies like the Missouri Bullet Company, and were told that the entire U.S. ammunition industry uses 100% recycled ‘secondary’ lead, and most of it comes from recycled lead-acid batteries.

“Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility,” the company said in a statement on its website. “[W]e do not see any reason for alarm. We expect our supply to continue and keep feeding our production lines which are still running 24 hours per day to return our inventory levels to where they should be.”

“No impact upon any cast bullet manufacturing operation whatever. We do not use virgin lead, which is what Doe Run provided,” Brad Alpert, operations manager for the Missouri Bullet Company, told TheBlaze in an email. “We use foundry alloy from major foundries derived from scrap sources, purified and cleaned to purity.”

“The jacketed bullets companies (Winchester, Remington, Federal, et al.) use the same sources that we do,” Alpert wrote.

Steve Weliver of Cape Fear Arsenal added in an email to TheBlaze: “We have not begun production at rates that this will impact.”

“At this time we do not anticipate any additional strain on our ability to obtain lead,” Tim Brandt of ATK, the parent company of Federal Premium, CCI, and Speer ammunition, said in reference to the Herculaneum closure in a company FAQ.

The Washington Times’ Emily Miller independently investigated this story, interviewing NSSF general counsel and senior VP Lawrence Keane:

“Manufacturers use recycled lead to make ammunition. They don’t buy from smelters,” Mr. Keane told me Monday. “The EPA closing, which has been in the works for a while, will have no impact on production, supply or cost to the consumers.”

TheBlaze also notes that the particular regulation responsible for the closure was published in 2008. The Herculaneum closure appears to be the end-game of a legal and administrative battle that started in 2003 under the administration of president George W. Bush.

According to industry sources, the main reason for continued ammunition scarcity and high prices is extremely high commercial demand.