The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Robert Johns, American Bird Conservancy, (202) 234-7181 x 210
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

National Ban on Lead-based Ammunition, Fishing Tackle Sought to End Wildlife Poisoning

Lead Still a Potent Killer of Millions of Wild Birds, Health Risk for Humans


A coalition of conservation, hunting and
veterinary groups today filed a formal petition with the
Environmental Protection Agency requesting a ban on the use of toxic lead in
hunting ammunition and fishing tackle. Major efforts to reduce lead exposure to
people have greatly reduced the amount of lead in the environment, but toxic
lead is still a widespread killer in the wild, harming bald eagles, trumpeter
swans, endangered California condors and other wildlife.

"It's long past time do something about this deadly -
and preventable - epidemic of lead poisoning in the wild," said Jeff Miller of
the Center for Biological Diversity. "Over
the past several decades we've wisely taken steps to get lead out of our
gasoline, paint, water pipes and other sources that are dangerous to people. Now
it's time to get the lead out of hunting and fishing sports to save wildlife
from needless poisoning."

An estimated 10 million to 20 million birds and other
animals die each year from lead poisoning in the United States. This occurs when
animals 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. Some animals die a painful death from lead poisoning
while others suffer for years from its debilitating effects.

"The science on this issue is massive in breadth and
unimpeachable in its integrity," said George Fenwick, president of American Bird
Conservancy. "Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies show continued lead poisoning of
large numbers of birds and other animals, and this petition is a prudent step to
safeguard wildlife and reduce unacceptable human health risks."

American Bird Conservancy, Center for Biological
Diversity, Association of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility, and the hunters' group Project Gutpile are asking
for the ban under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates dangerous
chemicals in the United States.

"As a hunter in California, compliance with the
recent state nonlead ammunition regulation has been simple," said Anthony
Prieto, a hunter and co-founder of Project Gutpile, a hunter's group that
provides educational resources for lead-free hunters and anglers. "I still get
to hunt, there is no toxic impact on wildlife or my health, and copper bullets
shoot better."

The petition references nearly 500 peer-reviewed
scientific studies that starkly illustrate the widespread dangers from lead
ammunition and fishing tackle. 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. In the United States, 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the
environment by hunting every year, another 80,000 tons are released at shooting
ranges, and 4,000 tons are lost in ponds and streams as fishing lures and
sinkers. At least 75 wild bird species are poisoned by spent lead ammunition,
including bald eagles, golden eagles, ravens and endangered California condors.
Despite being banned in 1992 for hunting waterfowl, spent lead shotgun pellets
continue to be frequently ingested by swans, cranes, ducks, geese, loons and
other waterfowl. These birds also consume lead-based fishing tackle lost in
lakes and rivers, often with deadly consequences.

Lead ammunition also poses health risks to people.
Lead bullets explode and fragment 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 infect meat up to a
foot and a half away from the bullet wound, causing a greater health risk to
humans who consume 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. State health agencies have had to recall venison donated
to feed the hungry because of lead contamination from lead bullet fragments.
Nearly 10 million hunters, their families and low-income beneficiaries of
venison donations may be at risk.

For more information, read about the Center's
Get the Lead Out campaign
and the ABC web page on lead threats to birds.

Read the petition to EPA 
Frequently Asked Questions

Timeline of lead hazard reduction for wildlife and

Recent scientific studies on lead exposure for wildlife and
Photos and video of lead poisoning


Lead has been known to be highly toxic for more than
2,000 years. Its use in water pipes, cosmetics, pottery and food is suspected as
a major contributing factor in the collapse of the Roman Empire. Lead causes
numerous pathological effects on living organisms, from acute, paralytic
poisoning and seizures to subtle, long-term mental impairment, miscarriage,
neurological damage, and impotence. Even low levels of lead can impair
biological functions. There may be no safe level of lead in the body tissues of
fetuses and young. Despite knowledge of how dangerous lead is, it continues to
be used in hunting and fishing products that expose wildlife and humans to lead.
In recent decades the federal government has implemented regulations to reduce
human lead exposure in drinking water, batteries, paint, gasoline, toys, toxic
dumps, wheel balancing weights, and shooting ranges.

The California condor, so near extinction in the
mid-1980s that the last nine wild birds were captured for an expensive
captive-breeding program, had a healthy enough captive population to begin
reintroduction into the wild in the mid-1990s. Yet reintroduced condors are far
from safe since they feed on carcasses often containing lead bullet fragments.
At least 30 condors in California and Arizona have died from lead poisoning
since reintroductions began, and chronic, sub-lethal lead poisoning is rampant
throughout the four reintroduced condor flocks in the United States. In 2008
California passed the Ridley-Tree Condor Preservation Act requiring use of
non-lead bullets for hunting in the condor range. This law has reduced lead
exposure, but lead bullets are still available in California and condors,
eagles, and other wildlife continue to be poisoned.

Because there are now numerous, commercially
available, non-toxic alternatives, the petitioning groups are urging the EPA to
develop regulations to require non-lead rifle bullets, shotgun pellets, and
fishing weights and lures throughout the nation. Non-toxic steel, copper, and
alloy bullets and non-lead fishing tackle are readily available in all 50
states. Hunters and anglers in states and areas that have restrictions or have
already banned lead have made successful transitions to hunting with non-toxic
bullets and fishing with non-toxic tackle. Over a dozen manufacturers of bullets
have designed and now market many varieties of non-lead, nontoxic bullets and
shot with satisfactory to superior ballistic characteristics - fully replacing
the old lead projectiles. The Toxic Substances Control Act gives the EPA broad
authority to regulate chemical substances that present an unreasonable risk of
injury to health or the environment, such as lead. The EPA can prohibit the
manufacture, processing, and distribution in commerce of lead for shot, bullets,
and fishing sinkers.