, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 746–754 | Cite as

Transition to Non-toxic Gunshot Use in Olympic Shooting: Policy Implications for IOC and UNEP in Resolving an Environmental Problem

  • Vernon George Thomas
  • Raimon Guitart


Olympic shooters discharge, annually, thousands of tons of lead shot which pose toxic risks to animals and may pollute both surface and ground waters. Non-toxic steel shot is an acceptable and effective substitute, but International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) rules prevent its adoption. The present policy and rules of the ISSF on lead shot use contravene the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Charter position on environmental protection. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a formal Olympic partner on environmental protection, has no stated policy on contamination from lead ammunition, despite having declared lead a Priority Area for remedial action, and is pressing to remove lead from the global human environment. The IOC Sport and Environment Commission and UNEP could examine the continued use of lead shot ammunition and advise the IOC Executive Board on appropriate changes in policy and rules that could halt the massive lead shot contamination of shooting range environments world-wide.


Olympic Games UNEP Shooting Lead Toxicity Policy 



This paper was produced with the personal funding of the authors. Neither author is supported by, or affiliated with, any ammunition or arms manufacturer. We are grateful to the reviewers for their constructive comments on the paper.


  1. Adriano, D.C. 2001. Lead. In Trace elements in terrestrial environments: Biogeochemistry, bioavailability, and risks of metals, ed. D.C. Adriano, 349–410. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ahmad, M., S.S. Lee, D.H. Moon, J.E. Yang, and Y.S. Ok. 2012. A review of environmental contamination and remediation strategies for heavy metals at shooting range soils. In Environmental protection strategies for sustainable development, strategies for sustainability, ed. A. Malik, and E. Grohmann, 437–451. New York: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-1591-2_14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Avery, D., and R.T. Watson. 2009. Regulation of lead-based ammunition around the world. In Ingestion of lead from spent ammunition: Implications for wildlife and humans, ed. R.T. Watson, M. Fuller, M. Pokras, and W.G. Hunt, 161–168. Boise: The Peregrine Fund.Google Scholar
  4. Beintema, N. 2008. Non-toxic shot: A path towards sustainable use of the waterbird resource. Technology Series No. 3, 30 pp. Bonn: UNEP/AEWA Secretariat.Google Scholar
  5. Bogard, J.S., K.L. Yuracko, M.E. Murray, R.A. Lowden, and N.L. Vaughn. 1999. Application of life cycle analysis: The case of green bullets. Environmental Management and Health 10: 282–289. doi: 10.1108/09566169910289441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Booth, L.H., F. Palazs, C. Darling, R. Lanno, and M. Wickstrom. 2003. The effect of lead-contaminated soil from Canadian Prairie skeet ranges on the neutral red retention assay and fecundity in the earthworm (Eisenia fetida). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 22: 2446–2453. doi: 10.1897/02-582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bousfield, D., and J.M. Montsion. 2012. Transforming an international organization: Norm confusion and the International Olympic Committee. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics 15: 823–838. doi: 10.1080/17430437.2012.708284.Google Scholar
  8. Ceccarelli, G., and S. Rosi. 2004. Future range design. In Sport shooting and the environment: Sustainable use of lead ammunition. Proceedings of the World Symposium on Lead Ammunition, September 9–10, 273–278. Rome: World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities.Google Scholar
  9. Chrastný, V., M. Komárek, and T. Hájek. 2010. Lead contamination of an agricultural soil in the vicinity of a shooting range. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 162: 37–46. doi: 10.1007/s10661-009-0774-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Darling, C.T.R., and V.G. Thomas. 2003. The distribution of outdoor shooting ranges in Ontario and the potential for lead pollution of soil and water. Science of the Total Environment 313: 235–243. doi: 10.1016/S0048-9697(03)00328-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Darling, C.T.R., and V.G. Thomas. 2005. Lead bioaccumulation in earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris) from exposure to lead compounds of differing solubility. Science of the Total Environment 346: 70–80. doi: 10.1016/jscitotenv.2004.11.011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. European Shooting Confederation. 2012. Lead and steel. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from
  13. Fisher, I.J., D.J. Pain, and V.G. Thomas. 2006. A review of lead poisoning from ammunition sources in terrestrial birds. Biological Conservation 131: 421–432. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2006.02.018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Government of Victoria. 2011. Steel shot standards, pressures and proofing. Department of Primary Industries, Victoria Australia: State Government of Victoria. Retrieved September 10, 2012, from
  15. Hui, C.A. 2002. Lead distribution throughout soil, flora, and an invertebrate at a wetland skeet range. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 65: 1093–1107. doi: 10.1080/00984100290071289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. IOC. 2012. Factsheet. The environment and sustainable development. Update, July, 2012. International Olympic Committee, Lausanne, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  17. ISSF. 2012. Shotgun rules for trap, double trap and skeet. In Official Statutes Rules and Regulations, 2009 Edition, 359–422. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from
  18. Jørgensen, S.S., and M. Willems. 1987. The fate of lead in soils. The transformation of lead pellets in shooting range soils. AMBIO 16: 11–15.Google Scholar
  19. Labare, M.P., M.A. Butkus, D. Riegner, N. Schommer, and J. Atkinson. 2004. Evaluation of lead movement from the abiotic to biotic at a small-arms firing range. Environmental Geology 46: 750–754. doi: 10.1007/s00254-004-1097-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lee, S.-Z., L. Chang, H.-H. Yang, C.-M. Chen, and M.-C. Liu. 1998. Adsorption characteristics of lead onto soils. Journal of Hazardous Materials A63: 37–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lessler, M.A. 1988. Lead and lead poisoning from antiquity to modern times. Ohio Journal of Science 88: 78–84.Google Scholar
  22. Lewis, L.A., R.J. Poppenga, W.R. Davidson, J.R. Fischer, and K.A. Morgan. 2001. Lead toxicosis and trace element levels in wild birds and mammals at a firearms training facility. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 41: 208–214. doi: 10.1007/s002440010239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lin, Z., B. Comet, U. Qvarfort, and R. Herbert. 1995. The chemical and mineralogical behaviour of Pb in shooting range soils from central Sweden. Environmental Pollution 89: 303–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ma, W. 1989. Effect of soil pollution with metallic lead pellets on lead bioaccumulation and organ/body weight alterations in small mammals. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 18: 617–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Manninen, S., and N. Tanskanen. 1993. Transfer of lead from shotgun pellets to humus and three plant species in a Finnish shooting range. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 24: 410–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Migliorini, M., G. Pigino, N. Bianchi, F. Bernini, and C. Leonzio. 2004. The effects of heavy metal contamination on the soil arthropod community of a shooting range. Environmental Pollution 129: 331–340. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2003.09.025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Migliorini, M., G. Pigino, T. Caruso, P. Fanciulli, C. Leonzio, and F. Bernini. 2005. Soil communities (Acari Oribatida; Hexapoda Collembola) in a clay pigeon shooting range. Pedobiologia 49: 1–13. doi: 10.1016/j.pedobi.2004.06.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Murray, K., A. Bazzi, C. Carter, A. Ehlert, A. Harris, M. Kopec, J. Richardson, and H. Sokol. 1997. Distribution and mobility of lead in soils at an outdoor shooting range. Journal of Soil Contamination 6: 79–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nriagu, J.O. 1983. Lead and lead poisoning in antiquity. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  30. Picatinny Arsenal. 2010. Army begins shipping improved 5.56 mm cartridge. News release. June 23, 2010. Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, USA, 2 pp.Google Scholar
  31. Rantalainen, M.-L., M. Torkkeli, R. Strömmer, and H. Setälä. 2006. Lead contamination of an old shooting range affecting the local ecosystem. A case study with a holistic approach. Science of the Total Environment 369: 99–108. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2006.05.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rooney, C.P., R.G. MClaren, and R.J. Cresswell. 1999. Distribution and phytoavailability of lead in a soil contaminated with lead shot. Water, Air, and Soil pollution 116: 535–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rooney, C.P., R.G. McLaren, and L.M. Condron. 2007. Control of lead solubility in soil contaminated with lead shot: Effect of soil pH. Environmental Pollution 149: 149–157. doi: 10.1016/jenvpol.2007.01.009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Roscoe, D.E., L. Widjeskog, and W. Stansley. 1989. Lead poisoning of northern pintail ducks feeding in a tidal meadow contaminated with shot from a trap and skeet range. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 42: 226–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sauvé, S., M. McBride, and W. Hendershot. 1998. Soil solution speciation of lead(II): Effects of organic matter and pH. Soil Science Society of America Journal 62: 618–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sears, J., and A. Hunt. 1991. Lead poisoning in Mute Swans, Cygnus olor, in England. In Proceedings of the Third IWRB International Swan Symposium, Oxford, 1989, ed. J. Sears, and P.J. Bacon, Wildfowl—Supplement No. 1, 383–388. Slimbridge: International Waterbird Research Bureau.Google Scholar
  37. Sorvari, J. 2007. Environmental risks at Finnish shooting ranges—Case study. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 13: 1111–1146. doi: 10.1080/10807030701506124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sorvari, J. 2011. Shooting ranges: Environmental contamination. In Encyclopedia of environmental health, vol. 5, ed. J.O. Nriagu, 41–50. Burlington: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sorvari, J., R. Antikainen, and O. Pyy. 2006. Environmental contamination at Finnish shooting ranges—The scope of the problem and management options. Science of the Total Environment 366: 21–31. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2005.12.019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stansley, W., and D.E. Roscoe. 1996. The uptake and effects of lead in small mammals and frogs at a trap and skeet range. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 30: 220–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stansley, W., L. Widjeskog, and D.E. Roscoe. 1992. Lead contamination and mobility in surface water at trap and skeet ranges. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 49: 640–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Takamatsu, T., T. Murata, M. Koshikawa, and M. Watanabe. 2010. Weathering and dissolution rates among Pb shot pellets of differing elemental compositions exposed to various aqueous and soil conditions. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 59: 91–99. doi: 10.1007/s00244-009-9449-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thomas, V.G. 2003. Harmonizing approval of non-toxic shot and sinkers in North America. Wildlife Society Bulletin 31: 292–295.Google Scholar
  44. Thomas, V.G. 2009. The policy and legislative dimensions of non-toxic shot and bullet use in North America. In Ingestion of lead from spent ammunition: Implications for wildlife and humans, ed. R.T. Watson, M. Fuller, M. Pokras, and W.G. Hunt, 351–362. Boise: The Peregrine Fund. doi: 10.4080/ilsa.2009.0311.Google Scholar
  45. Thomas, V.G. 2010. Achieving uniform regulation of environmental lead exposure and poisoning in wildlife and humans. The Environmentalist 30: 206–210. doi: 10.1007/s10669-010-9263-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Thomas, V.G., and R. Guitart. 2005. Role of international conventions in promoting avian conservation through reduced lead toxicosis: Progression towards a non-toxic agenda. Bird Conservation International 15: 147–160. doi: 10.1017/S0959270905000110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Thomas, V.G., and R. Guitart. 2010. Limitations of European Union policy and law for regulating use of lead shot and sinkers: Comparisons with North American regulation. Environment Policy and Governance 20: 57–72. doi: 10.1002/eet.527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. UNEP. 2006. Interim review of scientific information on lead. Appendix. Overview of existing and future national actions, including legislation, relevant to lead. DTIE/Chemicals. United Nations Environment Programme, Paris, France, 76 pp.Google Scholar
  49. UNEP. 2012a. Sport and the environment: UNEP and the International Olympic Committee. United Nations Environment Programme. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from
  50. UNEP. 2012b. Environmental governance: Harmful substances and hazardous waste: UNEP Priority Area. United Nations Environmental Programme. Retrieved August 8, 2012, from
  51. UNEP. 2012c. Global chemicals outlook: Towards sound management of chemicals. United Nations Environment Programme, Paris, France, 44 pp.Google Scholar
  52. Vyas, N.B., J.W. Spann, G.H. Heinz, W.N. Beyer, J.A. Jaquette, and J.M. Mengelkoch. 2000. Lead poisoning of passerines at a trap and skeet range. Environmental Pollution 107: 159–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vyas, N.B., J.W. Spann, and G.H. Heinz. 2001. Lead shot toxicity to passerines. Environmental Pollution 111: 135–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wan, X., S. Tandy, K. Hockmann, and R. Schulin. 2013. Changes in Sb speciation with waterlogging of shooting range soils and impacts on plant uptake. Environmental Pollution 172: 53–60. doi: 10.1016.j.envpol.2012.08.010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Watson, R.T., M. Fuller, M. Pokras, and W.G. Hunt. 2009. Ingestion of lead from spent ammunition: Implications for wildlife and humans. Boise: The Peregrine Fund.Google Scholar
  56. WFSA. 2004. Sport shooting and the environment: Sustainable use of lead ammunition. In Proceedings of the World Symposium on Lead Ammunition, September 9–10, Rome, Italy. World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, Rome, Italy.Google Scholar
  57. Zheng, G., S. Xu, M. Liang, D. Dermatas, and X. Xu. 2011. Transformations of organic carbon and its impact on lead weathering in shooting range soils. Environment and Earth Science 64: 2241–2246. doi: 10.1007/s12665-011-1052-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrative Biology, College of Biological ScienceUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Laboratory of Toxicology, Faculty of Veterinary SciencesUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterraSpain

Personalised recommendations