Bismuth Bullets & Sinkers
One of the primary uses of bismuth is as a non-toxic replacement for lead in things such as solder, paints, and parts in many industrial applications.
Lead is incredibly toxic to both humans and animals. It can easily seep into drinking water causing lead poisoning to anything that consumes it. Lead poisoning can cause a variety of health problems, damaging the brain, kidneys and liver, and affecting behaviour and reproduction. Since the discovery that lead is poisonous, we have attempted to remove lead from as many products.
Many of these products have had the lead replaced with bismuth or bismuth alloys as a nontoxic alternative. Consuming any amount of lead can have adverse effects, whereas bismuth compounds are insoluble and cannot be easily absorbed into the body, making heavy metal poisoning much less likely.
This insolubility also prevents bismuth from seeping into water systems the way lead does. Now, the leading causes of lead pollution are fishing sinkers and hunting ammunition. Both of which could also be replaced by bismuth alloys.
Lead is still used in ammunition for recreational shooting, game hunting, and in law-keeping and military operations. Lead is cheap, easy to form, and very dense which makes it perform well ballistically. Unfortunately, these activities release about 2500 tonnes of lead into the environment every year in Canada alone. This is the single biggest source of lead being released onto the land in Canada, and is still incredibly unregulated. Lead shot is only prohibited in hunting waterfowl. It was found that many birds were consuming the small lead pellets and becoming sick or dying.
Hunting any other game does not require the use of non-lead ammunition. Humans can get sick from eating lead-contaminated meat. Any scavenger or predator that eats an animal that was wounded with lead shot can be poisoned as well. Recreational shooting also doesn’t require non-lead alternatives. Recreational shooting ranges are actually the highest consumers of lead ammunition in Canada.
Very little of it is recovered or recycled. Bismuth shot can be used in both cases, to prevent the contamination of game meat. Also to prevent lead from shooting ranges from leaking into the environment . Bismuth can be made to have similar aerodynamics to lead and it is denser than steel, making it hit harder. Taking that into consideration, bismuth is an ideal replacement for lead ammunition.
Lead is also commonly released into the water via lost sinking lures or jigs. According to the government of Canada, this is the largest contributor to lead being released into the water in all of Canada. An average angler can lose 11 to 15 jigs and sinkers per year from lines breaking, getting caught in weeds, etc.
This adds up to about 460 tonnes of lead jigs and sinkers every year into Canada’s lakes and waterways. Sinkers are much easier to replace than ammunition, as they do not have to have specific ballistic properties. All a sinker needs to do is be heavy, a feat easily achieved by tying a small sleeve of bismuth weights to the fishing line.
Even though bismuth and other lead- free alternatives exist and are highly recommended. There is no legislation saying fishers and hunters must use them. The biggest obstacle to shooting ranges switching to bismuth or other non-toxic ammunition is the hunting traditions of the patrons.
The people who believe lead ammunition to be superior. In reality, very similar ballistics can be achieved by bismuth or even steel shot, and sinkers are even easier to replicate. For now, all we can do is encourage hunters, fishers, and the businesses that supply them, to switch to bismuth ammunition for the sake of the environment.