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NNSA Celebrates Earth Week: Pantex 'greens' firing range


The lead that flies at the Pantex Firing Range has to land somewhere, and when it does, it could create a potential contamination hazard. That’s why a group of Pantexans got together to find a better way, and created a program that shows how Pantex goes the extra mile to protect the environment.

The project to “green” the firing range had two components encompassing both indoor and outdoor firing ranges, which are used to train Security Police Officers (SPOs) in the use of firearms. The effort reduced by tons the amount of hazardous waste generated during normal operations of the ranges.

“At Pantex, we are continually looking for ways to accomplish our mission while minimizing the impact on the environment,” said B&W Pantex General Manager John Woolery.

The indoor range was annually generating approximately 2,400 pounds of lead-contaminated waste through the use of lead bullets. Although much of the lead was recycled, about 1,100 pounds of lead-contaminated air filters and sludge were not recyclable and had to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Additionally, lead dust released when the bullets struck targets created an airborne hazard for the SPOs.

To correct the issue, Pantex switched to a new bullet trap, abated lead in the range building and changed over to non-lead ammunition. The indoor rounds, which are generally made from compressed copper or zinc, are frangible, meaning they break into pieces upon impact and don’t create an airborne dust hazard like a conventional lead bullet.

The amount of lead waste generated by the indoor range is dwarfed by the amount of lead that lands in the outdoor ranges. Outdoor ranges at Pantex are backed by earthen berms that are covered by a layer of dolomite, a mineral that is used to trap bullets that pass through targets and strike the berms. When the dolomite layer becomes packed with lead over many years of use, it creates a ricochet hazard and must be replaced.

Normally, the nearly 1,500 tons of lead-saturated dolomite would have been sent to a hazardous waste landfill, but the team decided it would be much more environmentally sound if only the lead was sent to the landfill. The team found a contractor who could sift the lead out from the dolomite, and the material was reused to cover the berms.

As a result, only 24 tons of lead contaminated waste was generated and disposed, and 1,440 tons of dolomite was diverted from the landfill and beneficially reused. Although the environmental aspect of the project was the main attraction, the recycling effort also saved money, reducing the shipping and disposal costs by more than $400,000.

“We feel like the firing range project was a win-win for everyone,” said Bill Mairson, manager of the Environmental Safety and Health Division at Pantex. “Not only did we protect the environment from tons of lead contamination, we protected our personnel from an airborne lead hazard, and we saved taxpayer money in the process.”