Magic bullets: US Army pursues 'biodegradable' ammunition

Story highlights

  • US army seeks proposal for biodegradable training ammunition
  • Military bases among the most toxic sites in the US
  • Bullets could contain special seeds to grow plants

(CNN)The traditional function of bullets is killing, but a new design could have the opposite effect.

The US army is seeking proposals for biodegradable ammunition to replace the existing rounds used in training -- including grenade and tank rounds - citing environmental concerns.
    "Components of current training rounds require hundreds of years or more to biodegrade," states the Department of Defense brief. "Some of these rounds might have the potential to corrode and pollute the soil and nearby water."
    The DoD stipulates that the new ammunition should, instead, contain seeds that produce food for animals: "This effort will make use of seeds to grow environmentally friendly plants that remove soil contaminants and consume the biodegradable components developed under this project. Animals should be able to consume the plants without any ill effects."
    This eye-catching proposal may seem far-fetched, but the brief goes on to claim that US army researchers have already succeeded in embedding seeds into biodegradable material to flower months later.
    The US army wishes to replace existing ammunition that causes lasting environmental damage.

    Ripe targets

    Military facilities account for 900 of the 1300 most polluted sites in the US, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A comprehensive clean-up could cost $165 billion, according to the DoD.
    Much of the damage is historic, pre-dating awareness of environmental issues.
    "(Military bases) tend to have older buildings with lead paint and asbestos problems," says Skip Kazmarek, an environmental lawyer who has studied military sites. "If a base was operating in World War Two it might have burn pits for waste oil and solvents, and i