Photo: Jonathan Milak / USFWS
On the last full day of the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an order phasing out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges by 2022.
Top scientists, doctors and public-health experts from around the country have long called for a ban on lead hunting ammunition, citing overwhelming scientific evidence of the toxic dangers posed to people and wildlife. A national poll found that 57 percent of Americans support requiring the use of nontoxic bullets for hunting.
“Even at extremely low levels, lead can cause a range of dangerous health and reproductive problems,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Switching to nontoxic ammunition will save the lives of thousands birds and other wildlife, prevent hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead, and protect our water.”
Nationwide, millions of nontarget birds and other wildlife are poisoned each year from eating carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or consuming lead-poisoned prey. Spent lead ammunition causes lead poisoning in 130 species of birds and animals. Nearly 500 scientific papers document the dangers to wildlife from this lead exposure.
The phase-out of lead ammunition is nothing new. In 1991, nontoxic lead shot was required instead of lead ammunition when hunting waterfowl to reduce lead poisoning, but that action did not extend to upland game hunting. Waterfowl hunters have successfully been using affordable nontoxic shot for more than 25 years.
California has led the way in protecting people and wildlife from senseless lead poisoning from ammunition. The state’s phase-out of lead ammunition will be completed in 2019, providing urgently needed protections for iconic and critically endangered California condor, hawks, owls and eagles.
As of 2013 more than three dozen manufacturers market affordable nonlead bullets in 35 calibers and 51 rifle cartridge designations.
Lead is an extremely toxic substance that is dangerous to people and wildlife even at very low levels. Lead exposure can cause a range of health effects, from acute poisoning and painful death to long-term problems such as reduced reproduction, inhibition of growth, and damage to neurological development.
Studies using radiographs show that lead ammunition leaves fragments and numerous imperceptible, dust-sized particles of lead that contaminate game meat far from a bullet track, causing significant health risks to people eating wild game. Some state health agencies have had to recall venison donated to feed the hungry because of dangerous lead contamination from bullet fragments.
Scientific studies have debunked arguments from the gun lobby that price and availability of nonlead ammunition precludes switching to nontoxic rounds for hunting; researchers found no major difference in the retail price of equivalent lead-free and lead-core ammunition for most popular calibers.
Read more about the Center for Biological Diversity’s Get the Lead Out campaign.