US Consumption Of Lead By Product

With the numerous stories including mine regarding the closure of the Heculaneum, MO primary lead smelting facility, I thought this chart would be helpful to put the consumption of lead for ammo into perspective. The chart is from IndexMundi which got it from the US Geological Survey Mineral Resources Program.

For 2010, lead used in shot and bullets comprised 4.6% of the total lead used in the United States. This was down from 5.26% in 2009.

TABLE 5———–
(Metric tons,
lead content)———–
SIC2 code Product 2009 2010
Metal products:
3482 Ammunition, shot and bullets
67,900 65,700
Bearing metals:
35 Machinery except electrical W W
371 Motor vehicles and equipment W W
37 Other transportation equipment W W
Total 1,100 1,230
3351 Brass and bronze, billets and
1,370 1,410
36 Cable covering, power and
(3) (3)
15 Calking lead, building
(3) (3)
Casting metals:
36 Electrical machinery and
371 Motor vehicles and equipment W W
37 Other transportation equipment W W
3443 Nuclear radiation shielding W W
Total 15,900 16,400
Pipes, traps, other extruded
15 Building construction 1,130 990
3443 Storage tanks, process vessels,
(4) (4)
Total 1,130 990
Sheet lead:
15 Building construction 16,300 16,000
3443 Storage tanks, process vessels,
3693 Medical radiation shielding W W
Total 25,400 23,400
15 Building construction W W
Metal cans and shipping
367 Electronic components,
accessories, and other electrical equipment
6,160 6,130
371 Motor vehicles and equipment W W
Total 6,450 6,420
Storage batteries:
3691 Storage battery grids, post, etc. 389,000 478,000
3691 Storage battery oxides 750,000 806,000
Total storage batteries 1,140,000 1,280,000
27 Type metal, printing and allied
(3) (3)
34 Other metal products5 5,790 8,800
Grand total 1,260,000 1,410,000
Other oxides:
285 Paint W W
32 Glass and ceramics products W W
28 Other pigments and chemicals W W
Total 10,100 9,760
Miscellaneous uses 12,200 13,700
Grand total 1,290,000 1,430,000
W Withheld to
avoid disclosing company proprietary data; included in appropriate totals.
1Data are rounded to no more than three significant digits;
may not add to totals shown.
2SIC Standard Industrial Classification.
3Included with -Metal products: Other Metal products.-
4Included with -Metal products: Sheet lead: Building
construction- to avoid disclosing company proprietary data.
5Includes lead consumed in foil, collapsible tubes,
annealing, galvanizing, plating, electrowinning, and fishing

Looking at where raw lead is found, data from the US Geological Survey shows that Australia has the greatest proven reserves of lead. China which has the second largest amount of reserves of lead is actually the largest miner of lead accounting for about half of the world’s yearly production in 2012. The United States has only the 6th largest reserves in the world.

Kurt Hofmann makes an excellent point in his post about the Herculaneum smelter closure. He notes that the possible squeeze in lead for bullets might be felt even more keenly due to the Federal ban on many other materials for use in handgun ammo.

Perhaps, perhaps not, but regardless, the squeeze is likely to be felt quite keenly by gun owners. All the more keenly because of longstanding federal law banning the use of many other materials in the construction of bullets used in “handgun ammunition.” If lead is unavailable/unaffordable (and now verboten, to California hunters), and if a great many other possible bullet materials are illegal, the remaining options are both few and of limited utility.

And what, anyway, is “handgun ammunition,” you ask? Excellent question. Handguns have been built in nearly every caliber that rifles have, including the .50 BMG and the .600 Nitro Express. It seems apparent that any caliber that can be fired from a rifle can also be fired from a handgun, given a shooter with sufficient tolerance for recoil (and, in many cases, for impracticality).

And that means that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can, if it chooses, ban bullets made with tungsten alloys, steel, brass, etc., in virtually every caliber. It is hardly difficult to imagine the BATFE, especially under an administration like this one, choosing to do precisely that.

And therein lies the rub when it comes to reduced US production of primary lead.

Sierra Bullets On The Shutdown Of The Herculaneum MO Lead Smelter

As has been reported in many places, the Doe Run Company will be closing their lead smelting plant in Herculaneum, Missouri. The closure of the only primary lead smelter or a smelting plant that produces lead from lead ore is due to the EPA’s ten-fold increase in air standards for lead.

The NRA-ILA provided a quick summary:

In December, the final primary lead smelter in the United States will close. The lead smelter, located in Herculaneum, Missouri, and owned and operated by the Doe Run Company, has existed in the same location since 1892.

The Herculaneum smelter is currently the only smelter in the United States which can produce lead bullion from raw lead ore that is mined nearby in Missouri’s extensive lead deposits, giving the smelter its “primary” designation. The lead bullion produced in Herculaneum is then sold to lead product producers, including ammunition manufactures for use in conventional ammunition components such as projectiles, projectile cores, and primers. Several “secondary” smelters, where lead is recycled from products such as lead acid batteries or spent ammunition components, still operate in the United States.

Doe Run made significant efforts to reduce lead emissions from the smelter, but in 2008 the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued new National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead that were 10 times tighter than the previous standard. Given the new lead air quality standard, Doe Run made the decision to close the Herculaneum smelter.

Most ammunition uses lead as one of its primary components whether in bullets or lead shot. The question is whether they use recycled lead or lead that comes directly from ore.

Sierra Bullets of Sedalia, Missouri is the first bullet manufacturer that I know of that has addressed the question of whether the plant closure will shut down their supply of lead. The answer is a qualified no.

The main question asked is “Will this shut down your supply of lead.” The answer to that is no. First, Sierra buys lead from several different vendors to maintain constant supply. Second, this facility only smelts primary lead or lead ore. This is lead ore that has just been brought out of the earth. Sierra uses no primary lead at all and never has, so we use nothing directly from this facility. The lead we buy from Doe Run comes from their recycling facility in Boss, MO that is about 90 miles away from the smelter that is closing.

The facility we buy from is still going strong and delivering to us as scheduled. The lead from this facility is from recycled lead, mostly coming from car batteries. This is a continuing “in and out” cycle for them and the smelter closing will not affect this facility.

Our supply should not be in jeopardy and we do not anticipate any changes in our supply chain at this time. Could the lack of primary lead create a little more demand for recycled lead? Sure, but how much is unknown. Could this increase in demand also create an increase in price? Sure, but again, by how much is unknown at this time.

There are many other primary lead smelters in the world and so the flow of primary lead will not be shut off. Where there is a need for primary lead, I am sure there will be a salesman more than happy to pick up the business.

If you read their answer closely, they are saying their source of lead seems to be secure. However, the demand for recycled lead will undoubtedly begin to rise as battery manufacturers may increase their consumption of recycled lead. The increase in hybrid and electric cars will also increase the demand for lead-acid batteries.

Ammo prices have risen with demand and I expect they will continue to rise from both ammo demand and demand for the raw materials such as lead. Where it will end, I just don’t know.