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Lead in ammunition poses health risks to humans and wildlife

George Bird Grinnell, who founded the original National Audubon Society in the late 19th Century, warned in 1894 that lead shot left behind on the ground could poison birds, and our organization has been concerned about this this environmental threat ever since. This is why Audubon California is a co-sponsor (with Defenders of Wildlife and the Humane Society of the U.S.) of Assembly Bill 711, which will require non-lead ammunition for all hunting in California.

The book is long closed on the toxic effects of lead to humans. Ancient Romans warned against drinking water from lead goblets and pipes, and a whole body of research in modern times has prompted us to ban the substance from gasoline, paint, plumbing and toys. The threat that lead from ammunition poses to birds and other wildlife is also well documented.

Scavenging birds such as the endangered California Condor ingest lead when they consume carcasses left behind by hunters that used lead ammunition. Other birds such as Golden Eagles and Mourning Doves also consume the lead when they consume prey animals containing lead or just pick it up off the ground. But just as lead left in the field can enter wildlife, so too can it wind up on the dinner table – so it’s a public health issue.

When lead ammunition hits its target, it shatters into hundreds of pieces, some of them so small that it’s virtually impossible to clean out of the meat. A 2008 study from the Centers for Disease Control of hunters in North Dakota found that people who regularly ate meat hunted with lead ammunition had higher levels of lead in their bloodstream.

This has prompted many hunters to use only non-lead ammunition.

In March, 30 leading scientists in the field of lead toxicology agreed that lead ammunition poses a significant threat to both wildlife and people. “Lead-based ammunition is likely the greatest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States,” the scientists said.

AB 711 is supported by groups representing not just conservation and animal welfare, but also by public health and environmental justice groups. Among the many are Children Now, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, California Public Interest Coalition, Clean Water Action, and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

A recent poll shows that California voters of both parties overwhelmingly support requiring non-lead ammunition for hunting by well over a 2:1 margin.

Opponents who claim this legislation is the secret agenda effort of one group greatly underestimate the breadth of the bill’s support and the reasons people support it.

Ed’s Note: Dan Taylor is director of Public Policy for Audubon California.


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