Lead bullets in the EU – new positive and negative directions

The EU lead ban arrived to another milestone, and we have again a chance to participate in the consultation following the reports of the Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis and Committee for Risk Assessment. There are some positive steps and there are some negative proposals in the material. There are also some new threats that they propose to investigate for the EU.

This current consultation is based on the Annex XVII procedure (controlling the use of lead), while in parallel the procedure of including lead in Annex XIV (banning lead as a raw material) is running also.

Last year, till 21 Sept we submitted our points about our concerns with the Annex XVII procedure, and we also commented the Annex XIV procedure earlier this year.

Based on the consultation ECHA modified its original plans:

1. Saving lead free bullets: The updated proposal would allow lead in concentrations of up to 3 % w/w in bullets and pellets primarily made of copper or copper alloys (e.g. brass). This derogation would need to be reviewed before entry into force to determine if a concentration of less than 1 % can be achieved. A higher concentration limit for copper and copper alloys is proposed because alternatives made of brass may currently contain up to 3 % lead.

2. Additional derogations for hunting with bullets: derogations for using bullets in seal hunting and for full metal jacket bullets. For seal hunting, the user needs permission from the Member State to hunt seals. Use of full metal jacket bullets also requires a permit. ECHA finds that the risks to people and the environment are low or insignificant from these uses. Currently, there are no alternatives available with a similar technical performance.

3. Saving lead bullets for sports shooting: Sports shooting with lead bullets of all calibres can continue if trap chambers or ‘best practice’ sand traps are in place at the shooting site five years after entry into force. In addition, owners of shooting sites need to notify the relevant Member State within 18 months of entry into force of their location and make sure that no agricultural activities take place at that location. The list of containment measures was extended after the six-month consultation to include ‘best practice’ sand traps, which were found to be as effective as ‘trap chambers’ to prevent releases of lead to the environment. The transition period was updated to five years for all calibres to give time to implement the required containment measures.

4. Hunting with small calibre lead bullets: Originally 5-year transitional period was set, but as there are no alternatives to lead in 22 calibres, the time frame can be extended.  Although alternatives to lead ammunition in small calibres are available, there is uncertainty whether their technical performance (in terms of precision) is adequate for hunting. The proposed transition period will allow industry to further develop alternatives. However, the review of technical feasibility before the entry into force will ensure that the impacts for society are not disproportionate. If the technical performance of alternatives is not good enough at the time of the review, the transition period can be extended.

The requested amendments of the SEAC and RAC committees:

1. Shorter transition period for using lead gunshot for hunting: instead of 5 years, 18 months

2. Mandatory labelling of ammunition and fishing sinkers containing lead and information to consumers at point of sale if the lead content is above 1%

3. Derogation for lead gunshot in sports shooting: limited to shot sizes used in sports shooting, between 1.9 and 2.6 mm.

Further proposals of the SEAC and RAC committees:
• Remediation needs to happen at the end of service life of all shooting ranges in addition to implementing the specific risk management measures proposed by ECHA.
• To minimise shooters’ exposure to lead, managing the risks of lead from primers should be considered.
• To minimise shooters’ exposure to lead, RAC points out that actions should be taken to manage risks to people practicing at indoor shooting ranges.
• RAC recommends that shooting ranges should be requested to inform shooters about the risks of lead.
• RAC recommends setting a regulatory maximum level for lead in game meat. This could be similar to the maximum levels set for lead in other meat than game defined in
the Commission Regulation for setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs (EC) 1881/2006.
• Improving the definition of fishing wire would enable a more effective enforcement of the restriction.
• Decision makers should consider whether there is a need to create a collection system for banned lead ammunition and fishing tackle or how to provide information on the safe disposal of these articles

Source: https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/2082415/qa_restriction_proposal_lead_outdoor_shooting_fishing_en.pdf

So, is this good for us, or no?

Sport shooting on closed shooting ranges seems to be safe now based on the updated document regarding the Annex XVII procedure as the use of lead bullets for all sport shooting disciplines will be possible unless the range has bullet stops. Regarding hunting the situation is not good. The derogation of FMJ bullets (and seal hunting), and flexible time frame for the 22 calibres in hunting are important but minor issues, the lead core large calibre will still be banned in general. As lead bullets will be banned for hunting the use of vintage muzzle loading and breech loading arms designed for black powder and lead bullets will be impossible in the fields. This shall be a great loss, even if it seems that black powder sports shooting is saved for a while.

What happens next?

The RAC and SEAC proposals are open for consultation till 29 Aug 2022. The link to the consultation website is the following: https://comments.echa.europa.eu/comments_cms/SEACDraftOpinion.aspx?RObjectId=0b0236e185d702d6

Our comments from the previous consultation were built into the paper of ECHA, meaning our voice was heard. Please check the study: https://echa.europa.eu/documents/10162/2f328986-4ee3-6fe4-2b7a-3f53a0335f8c

The Annex D. describing black powder activities start at p316.

Anybody can participate in the consultation so we strongly recommend all organizations to raise their voices again to save hunting with black powder arms in Europe. Possible direction for the consultation:

The situation and problems of the 22 calibres is exactly the same as with the lead bullets of vintage muzzle loading and breech loading arms and their repros: there is no known substitute for bullet material, as we need an easy to deform, soft raw material with high density. This is a good example that a derogation can be possible based on technical requirements. Based on this example we can ask for a flexible timeframe (until industry can come up a solution for lead free bullet material suitable for vintage arms and their repros), or we can ask for a full derogation on original and reproduction arms designed for black powder and lead bullets. Let’s not forget that the lead shot from black powder arms for hunting purposes is a statistical error, not more.

Even if MLAIC is not a hunting organization, many of our shooters are hunters as well, therefore we strongly recommend to stand up for them in this case as well, as hunting traditions are part of MLAIC traditions as well. We will of course create a proposal to be submitted, as we did before.

How the procedure continues?

ECHA will send the proposal and the opinions of the Committees for Risk Assessment and for Socio-Economic Analysis to the European Commission in early 2023. The Commission is expected to prepare its proposal following ECHA’s proposal and the opinions of the two committees. The Commission’s proposal to amend the list of restrictions (Annex XVII) to the REACH Regulation will be submitted to a vote before the EU Member States in the Commission’s REACH Committee, followed by a period of scrutiny by the European Parliament and the Council.

In the meantime, the Annex XIV procedure is running in the background as well, we’ll notify you when we have news about this as well.

Balázs Németh, July 2022