We previously reported on the closure of the nation's last primary lead smelter due to tightened EPA standards on ambient air quality. As the date for closure of the smelter approaches, there has been a significant amount of speculation concerning the effect of the smelter's closure on the availability and price of ammunition.
According to the United States Geological Survey, lead usage in ammunition makes up only about three percent of lead consumption in the United States. Lead-acid batteries make up the vast majority of U.S. lead consumption, and these batteries are readily recycled. This recycled lead, which will still be able to be smelted in the United States at secondary smelters even after the Herculaneum smelter closes, is the type most often used by ammunition manufacturers.
Speculation about the effect of the Herculaneum smelter's closure has caused a number of ammunition manufacturers, including Sierra and Federal, to issue public statements on their ability to continue to source lead for ammunition production. As Lawrence Keane, the senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, pointed out to Emily Miller of the Washington Times, ammunition producers have known for some time of the impending closure of the Herculaneum smelter and do not believe that the closure will affect production of lead ammunition components.
While the reduction in supply of primary lead from the Herculaneum smelter could mean increased demand for recycled lead, the small increase in demand should be met by existing sources or possibly by a new U.S. smelter using already existing technology that is capable of meeting the new air quality standards.
In any case, the bottom line for consumers is that ammunition producers do not expect the smelter's closure to lead to any imminent impact on the price or availability of lead ammunition components. While many factors can affect the market for ammunition, this particular facility's closure should not have the dramatic impact that some have predicted.