Lead in primers?


May 10, 2005, 01:17 PM
Based upon info gleaned from THR I began looking for material on lead in conventional primers. I use WW and CCI. I was unaware of lead in primers.

Can anybody tell me more? I can't seem to find details on lead and lead exposure in primers.

BTW, are they still made with potassium fulminate?

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May 10, 2005, 01:43 PM
Potassium fulminate primers are what put "corrosive" into corrosive ammo. Most current primers use lead styphnate, although lead-free primers have been, and are being, developed.

May 10, 2005, 02:29 PM

From the article:

Lead-free primer formulations are the latest inventions attributed to necessity. About 20 years ago, it was recognized that airborne lead presented a danger


All major U.S. ammunition producers now offer ammunition with unleaded primers.

Am I to assume that all primers made for the last 20 years is lead free?

May 10, 2005, 02:40 PM
Am I to assume that all primers made for the last 20 years is lead free?
No. All of the major manufacturers offer lead-free ammo in addition to normal lead-containing ammo.

The lead-free box of cartridges will be specifically labeled as such and may cost a bit more.

Ol` Joe
May 10, 2005, 02:45 PM
No, not all are lead free.
Win clean ammo has one that is. I don`t know it for sure but, I don`t believe lead free primers are available to the reloading public yet except in loaded ammo. Another factor that`s a problem is mercury. The best thing to do when handling primers especially fired ones is to keep things clean and forgo eating or other activities that involve putting your hands by your mouth until they`ve been washed.

May 10, 2005, 02:46 PM
I would not assume that, at all. I think that lead-free primers are labelled with a particular trade name implying non-toxicity, e.g., Winchester Winclean. I have not actualy seen them sold as reloading components, nor used them (obviously).

May 10, 2005, 02:50 PM
The best thing to do when handling primers especially fired ones is to keep things clean and forgo eating or other activities that involve putting your hands by your mouth until they`ve been washed.

Amazing. I've been shooting/loading for nearly thirty years but haven't been aware of any contamination until the last few years. But only learned of primer contaminants in the last few months.

And who said, "ignorance is bliss?"


AZ Jeff
May 10, 2005, 02:53 PM
If you shoot out of doors exclusively, you exposure to lead from priming compounds is pretty minimal.

It's those persons who shoot on indoor ranges that run the greatest chance of ingesting large amounts of lead salts from priming compounds. Big metropolitan PD ranges (and the range officers that inhabit them constantly) are a big driver in getting the lead out of primers.

May 10, 2005, 02:54 PM
Unless labeled as having 'lead free primers', the primary explosive agent in primers is lead styphnate. Many also contain small amounts of TNT, barium componds, lead azide, and even powdered alumium (common in magnum primers).
I have not looked at the WinClean chemistry yet, but there are a number of none lead compounds that could be used to replace lead styphnate.
this is really getting to be swatting at flies.

diazodinitrophenol (DDNP), commonly called dinol is the primary in the lead free primers

May 10, 2005, 03:04 PM
A couple more comments:

One of the first, if not The first, priming compounds was mercury fulminate. I haven't heard of mercury being used in primers for a Long time, many generations. I have these simplistic little file cards in my head that say things like:

Mercury fulminate - 19th Century
Potassium fulminate (et al) - early 20th Century
Lead styphnate - mid-20th Century to present
Lead-free - Clinton era

I also have never thought that handling primers entails any risk of exposure to lead. The lead styphnate is the BANG part of the primer, and I don't think of it as something on the outside of the primers. I think of lead exposure while reloading as being associated with handling cast lead bullets, then licking my fingers or picking my nose.

Meanwhile, I do think of lead exposure when firing the lead styphnate primers (which to me means all primers) in a poorly ventilated area, with the exposure coming from inhaling the lead in the gunsmoke. I wonder if that's what makes gunsmoke smell so delightful?

May 10, 2005, 04:23 PM
I believe that PMC offers lead-free primers for reloaders. As there are no vendors stocking PMC primers around here (only CCI and Winchester, and I use CCI), I cannot vouch for them.

They're also made in a foreign country (Korea, I believe), which is a mild turn-off for me.

I'm surprised that CCI, Winchester, and Remington aren't offering lead-free primers to reloaders.

I'm more concerned with blowing my finger off with a primer than ingesting lead.

Speaking of nose-picking, I usually blow my nose rather thoroughly after shooting. It would seem that there's some black particles (probably smoke/powder residue) contained in the mucus. This is mildly troublesome, as I shoot frequently and try to minimize my exposure to lead and other Bad Stuff(tm). I don't really think of this as a big deal, but every little bit counts, you know? Short of wearing a respirator or thoroughly blowing my nose after shooting, is there any way of reducing this?

AZ Jeff
May 10, 2005, 04:43 PM
I posted this back in October of last year related to lead exposure, and how to control it:

Lead levels in the human body, when measured via blood test are expressed as "micrograms per deciliter". That said, here are some factors to consider:

(BTW, all of the below comes from stuff I have read by the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, aka "ASLET". These guys are more likely to be exposed to lead in an indoor environment than are more other shooters, so they have done LOTS of research on the topic.)

Most of the issue with lead ingestion comes from shooting on INDOOR RANGES. The ones outdoors have enough ventilation and natural "cleaning" factors to reduce the lead ingestion levels pretty easily.

Lead ingestion by shooters comes from 4 major sources, not necessarily listed in order of significance:
1. molten airborne lead particles generated during firing, melting off the back of lead bullets, and inhaled
2. particulate lead absorbed when touching/handling lead bullets
3. lead primer byproducts inhaled as a result of shooting
4. molten lead particles inhaled during casting lead bullets

Most of us don't cast our own bullets, so we can ignore #4 above as a source of lead ingestion. However...source #3 above is by FAR the BIGGEST CONTRIBUTOR to lead ingestion by shooters. (It's something like 10 times greater than the next highest source!!)

The reason here is that, most "non-corrosive" primers contain lead styphnate or something similar. When lead primers ignite, the chemical reaction creates a lead salt that is airborne, and worse yet, it hydroscopic, like all salts. It picks up moisture easily.

Guess what's in your throat and lungs? Lots of moisture, waiting for the lead salt to combine with it. Instant absorbtion.

The solution---RIGOROUS cleanliness on the range, and care when shooting indoors:

1. Don't smoke, eat, or drink on the range. You are ingesting just that much more lead in doing so.
2. Don't shoot on an indoor range that does not ventilate by pulling combustion products AWAY from the shooting line. If you MUST shoot on a range with poor ventilation (Lord knows why), use an OSHA approved mask.
3. DON'T SWEEP with a broom on an indoor range. The floor is COVERED in lead salts, and brooming puts them back in the air.
4. Once you are done shooting on an indoor range, wash your hands immediately. If you can take a shower and change clothes ASAP, all the better.
5. Lastly, DON'T go to bed after shooting indoors until you take a shower and wash your hair. You hair traps lots of lead particles that will transfer to your pillow, and then to your mouth/nose while sleeping.

People I know who have followed the above rules can sucessfully shoot indoors A LOT (like IPSC practice multiple times per week) without having excessive lead levels.

May 10, 2005, 04:51 PM
I get my lead level checked every year now, the highest I've had is 6 micrograms per deciliter and that was shooting for about 2 hours 5 days a week on poorly ventilated ranges (.22 rifles, though). The acceptable range is 0-30 something. I suggest you get your levels checked to make sure you're still alright. They do have medicine out there to treat it, so if you're high, you'll still be fine.

model 649
May 10, 2005, 08:16 PM
Several years ago the Rifleman did a piece on the development of un-leaded primers. The bottom line at that time was the lack of shelf life compared to leaded primers. I wonder if that has changed much? Leaded primers are amazingly stable over many years (25 that I know of personally).

May 10, 2005, 09:04 PM
PMC is claiming 25 year shelf life for their non-toxic offerings.

PMC non-toxic primers (http://www.pmcammo.com/primers.php)

Has anyone tried these ?


May 10, 2005, 10:11 PM
I might give PMC green primers a try.


May 11, 2005, 10:39 AM
I had just started testing the PMC "green" primers before my accident last year. I was quite happy with their performance. Very very close to standard primers. When I get my guns back I hope to do further testing since I do 95% of my shooting indoors.

May 11, 2005, 01:42 PM
I had just started testing the PMC "green" primers before my accident last year.

What accident?

May 11, 2005, 06:06 PM
Nothing serious, just before you joined THR I had a little fall and broke my spine and a few other things.
That's why some weeks I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer.

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