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CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Anthony Prieto, Project Gutpile, (805) 729-5455
Karen Schambach, PEER, (530) 333-2545
Lawsuit Filed Over EPA Refusal to Address Lead Poisoning of Wildlife
Suit Seeks to Prevent Annual Deaths of Millions of Wild Birds, Wildlife From Toxic Lead in Ammunition, Fishing Gear
WASHINGTON - November 23 - Conservation and hunting groups today sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate toxic lead that frequently poisons and kills eagles, swans, cranes, loons, endangered California condors and other wildlife throughout the country. The EPA recently denied a formal petition to ban lead in fishing tackle and hunting ammunition despite long-established science on the dangers of lead poisoning in the wild, which kills millions of birds each year and also endangers public health.
“The EPA has the ability to protect America’s wildlife from ongoing preventable lead poisoning, but continues to shirk its responsibility,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA’s failure to act is astonishing given the mountain of scientific evidence about the dangers of lead to wildlife. There are already safe and available alternatives to lead products for hunting and fishing, and the EPA can phase in a changeover to nontoxic materials, so there’s no reason to perpetuate the epidemic of lead poisoning of wildlife.”
In August, a coalition of groups formally petitioned the EPA to ban lead in bullets and shot for hunting and in fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The petition referenced nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers illustrating the widespread dangers of lead poisoning to scavengers that eat lead ammunition fragments in carcasses, and to waterfowl that ingest spent lead shot or lost lead fishing sinkers. The groups filing the lawsuit today are the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Project Gutpile, a hunters’ organization. Since the original petition was filed, more than 70 organizations in 27 states have voiced support for the lead ban, including those representing veterinarians, birders, hunters, zoologists, scientists, American Indian groups, physicians and public employees.
“Having hunted in California for 20 years I have seen firsthand lead poisoning impacts to wildlife from toxicity through lead ammunition,” said Anthony Prieto, a hunter and cofounder of Project Gutpile, a hunters’ group that provides educational resources for lead-free hunters and anglers. “Although many more sportsmen are now getting the lead out, the EPA must take action to ensure we have a truly lead-free environment. It’s time to make a change to non-lead for ourselves and for future generations to enjoy hunting and fishing with a conscience.”
“Over the past several decades Americans chose to get toxic lead out of our gasoline, paint, water pipes and other sources that were poisoning people. Now it’s time to remove unnecessary lead from hunting and fishing sports that is needlessly poisoning our fish and wildlife,” said Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “Today’s action is a step to safeguard wildlife and reduce human health risks posed by lead.”
The EPA denied the portion of the petition dealing with regulation of lead ammunition based on an incorrect claim that the agency lacks the authority to regulate toxic lead in ammunition. The EPA asserted that shells and cartridges are excluded from the definition of “chemical substances” in the Act. That claim is contradicted by the legislative history of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which provides clear and specific authority to regulate hazardous chemical components of ammunition such as lead. Earlier this month the EPA also issued a final determination denying the portion of the petition on fishing sinkers, even though the agency itself had proposed banning certain lead fishing weights in 1994.
“The EPA has known for years it has the authority to regulate lead,” said Miller. “Lead shot was eliminated in 1991 by federal regulation to address widespread lead poisoning of ducks and secondary poisoning of bald eagles. And in 1994, the EPA even proposed banning lead fishing weights that were being eaten by waterfowl.”
Hunters and anglers in states that have restricted or banned lead shotgun ammunition or lead fishing gear have already made successful transitions to nontoxic alternatives, and fishing and hunting in those areas remains active. Alternatives continue to be developed, including the U.S. military’s transition toward bullets made of non-lead materials.
“This is clearly not an anti-hunting initiative, it is about using less toxic materials for the sake of wildlife and our human health,” said Prieto. “When I hunt, I want to make sure I kill only my target animal, and I want to use the least toxic ammunition possible since I will be feeding the game to my family.”
more information, read about the Center’s Get the Lead Out campaign.
Read Frequently Asked Questions about the lead ban petition.
View photo images and video of wildlife poisoned by lead ammunition and sinkers.
The Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org) is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Project Gutpile is an educational organization comprised of hunters that provides resources for lead-free hunters and anglers. Project Gutpile has been promoting non-lead ammunition and raising lead awareness in the hunting community since 2002.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a 10,000 member national alliance of local, state and federal resource professionals working to protect the environment. PEER members include government scientists, land managers, environmental law enforcement agents, field specialists, and other resource professionals committed to responsible management of America’s public resources.
Lead is an extremely toxic substance that is dangerous to people and wildlife even at low levels. Exposure can cause a range of health effects, from acute poisoning and death to long-term problems such as reduced reproduction, inhibition of growth, and damage to neurological development. Animals are poisoned when they scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments or pick up and eat spent lead shot pellets or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit. Animals can die a painful death from lead poisoning or suffer for years from its debilitating effects.
Lead ammunition also poses human-health risks since lead bullets explode and break into minute particles in shot game and can spread throughout meat that humans eat. Studies using radiographs show that numerous imperceptible, dust-sized particles of lead can contaminate meat up to a foot and a half away from the bullet track, causing a greater health risk to people consuming lead-shot game than previously thought. A recent study found that up to 87 percent of cooked game killed by lead ammunition can contain unsafe levels of lead. Some state health agencies have had to recall venison donated to feed the hungry because of lead contamination from bullet fragments. Nearly 10 million hunters, their families and low-income beneficiaries of venison donations may be at risk, as well as the estimated 1 million or more people who manufacture lead fishing weights in their homes, leading to inhalation of lead dust and fumes.
There are now numerous commercially available, nontoxic alternatives to lead rifle bullets, shotgun pellets and fishing weights. Nontoxic steel, copper and alloy bullets and non-lead fishing tackle are readily available in all 50 states. More than a dozen manufacturers of bullets now market many varieties of non-lead, nontoxic bullets and shot. The California Department of Fish and Game has certified nontoxic ammunition from 24 manufacturers for hunting big-game and non-game species in the range of the California condor. The Arizona Game and Fish Department publishes a list of non-lead rifle ammunition available for big-game hunters, including 120 bullets in various calibers produced by 13 ammunition manufacturers, as well as seven manufacturers who provide custom-loaded nonlead rifle ammunition. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service has approved 12 nontoxic shot types for hunting waterfowl. At least 10 alternatives to lead fishing weights are now available made from non-poisonous materials such as tin, bismuth, steel, ceramics and recycled glass.