Studies, reports fuel arguments for lead-bullet bans

California Condors are scavengers by nature, and it’s thought the rare birds, some shown here feeding on a dead cow, suffer unintentional lead poisoning after feeding on animals killed by hunters using lead bullets.

It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since waterfowl hunters railed against a proposed ban on lead shot even though studies showed waterfowl and other species were being unintentionally poisoned by consuming spent shot.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study published in 2000, the 1991 ban on lead shot reduced lead poisoning deaths of Mississippi Flyway mallards by 64 percent, and overall ingestion of toxic pellets declined by 78 percent over previous levels.

The report said the ban prevented the lead poisoning deaths of approximately 1.4 million ducks in the 1997 fall flight of 90 million ducks.

Now, similar arguments are being made about lead hunting-bullet fragments impacting condors and other scavengers, and hunters again are in the spotlight.

Once you dismiss the tiresome and perpetual anti-hunting arguments of groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S., there are some valid arguments for moving away from lead ammunition and adopting a less-toxic substitute.

As every hunter knows, lead bullets are designed to mushroom and then fragment on impact, to better spread the shock and damage through a target animal.

But that means pieces of lead, often too small to detect easily, spread though the meat and may be eaten by a hunter or scavenger.

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, teaching hunters about potential impacts of ingesting lead fragments in harvested wild game offers several benefits, including: raising hunter and consumer awareness; offering educated decisions for bullet selection; and providing steps to take to decrease the possibility of lead in hunter-harvested meat.

The New York agency said there have been no reported human illnesses related to the consumption of wild game shot with lead ammunition.

A 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the blood-lead levels of 738 North Dakotans who regularly ate wild game harvested with lead bullets. The results indicated people who eat wild game harvested with lead bullets appear to have higher levels of lead in their blood than people who don’t.

“In the study, people who ate a lot of wild game tended to have higher lead levels than those who ate little or none,” Dr. Stephen Pickard, an epidemiologist with the North Dakota Department of Health. “The study also showed that the more recent the consumption of wild game harvested with lead bullets, the higher the level of lead in the blood.”

Soon after the results were announced, North Dakota Game and Fish recommended North Dakota food banks not distribute venison donated to clients in 2007 because evidence showed some of the meat contained lead fragments, likely from ammunition used by hunters.

Lead is a known neurotoxin, and hunters, whether agreeing with the ban or not, should consider potential exposure risks from the consumption of lead fragments and make educated decisions to limit the chances of lead exposure.

According to guidelines set by the CDC and the North Dakota Department of Health:

■ Pregnant women and children younger than 6 should not eat any venison harvested with lead bullets.

■ Older children and other adults should take steps to minimize potential exposure to lead and use their judgment about consuming game that was taken using lead-based ammunition.

■ The most certain way to avoid lead bullet fragments in wild game is to hunt with non-lead bullets.


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