Press Release

For Immediate Release
February 10, 2004

Washington D.C.
FBI National Press Office
(202) 324-3691


Washington, D.C. – Today, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies released a report regarding compositional comparisons of bullet lead performed by the FBI Laboratory. In 2002, the FBI Laboratory contracted the National Academies to conduct an independent study. The report released today revealed that the FBI Laboratory’s current analytical instrumentation is appropriate and is the best available technology with respect to both precision and accuracy for the elements analyzed. Furthermore, the elements selected by the FBI for analysis are appropriate. Recommendations by the NRC included suggestions to improve the statistical analysis, quality control procedures, as well as expert testimony.

Bullet lead compositional comparisons use chemical analysis to determine the amount of trace elements found within lead bullets. The FBI Laboratory asked the NRC for recommendations on how they could improve the analysis, the statistical treatment of the data, and the interpretation of results. To conduct the study, the NRC formed a committee of 13 members consisting of chemists, metallurgists, statisticians, forensic scientists, and attorneys. The FBI Laboratory did not have any input in the selection of panel members and only participated in those sessions that were open to the general public.

The NRC study is part of the FBI Laboratory’s ongoing efforts to answer questions surrounding bullet lead compositional analysis. In 2000, the FBI Laboratory contracted with the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa to conduct a statistical study of bullet lead data. Internal review teams were formed in 2001 to identify any weaknesses that existed in bullet lead examinations. Additionally, publications were written on the topic to explain the examination to those unfamiliar with it. The basis of bullet lead compositional analysis is supported by approximately 50 peer- reviewed articles found in scientific publications beginning in the early 1970's. Published research and validation studies have continued to demonstrate the usefulness of the measurement of trace elements within bullet lead.

Since the early 1980's this technique has been used in approximately 2,500 cases and in less than 20 % of those cases, bullet lead compositional analysis was presented as circumstantial evidence in court. The science has continually withstood legal challenges in federal, state, and local criminal courts.

“The FBI Laboratory remains a world-class facility, in part, because it routinely seeks out and benefits from outside scrutiny and review” said Laboratory Director, Dr. Dwight E. Adams. “The report issued today by the National Academy of Sciences on bullet lead comparisons is no exception. We thank the Academy and members of the committee for their hard work and we look forward to reviewing their recommendations.”