Gun group intervenes in lawsuit aimed at stemming lead poisoning in wildlife
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Even though there are plenty of modern, less toxic alternatives available, the National Rifle Association doesn’t want the EPA to address lead hunting ammunition with new regulations.
The gun rights group earlier this month filed legal motions to try and block the EPA from protecting wildlife and people from the effects of poisonous lead hunting ammunition left the wild.
Paranoid as always, the group sees any attempt to regulate anything to do with hunting as an attack on its misguided interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
By now, it’s clear that lead shot is not a good thing for the environment. Nearly 500 scientific papers have documented the dangers to wildlife from this kind of lead exposure.
A recent study by University of Santa Cruz California researchers showed that lead is the leading cause of mortality in endangered California condors. Many of the birds that have been released into the wild have been recaptured and treated for lead poisoning.
Nontarget birds and other wildlife are poisoned from scavenging carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or from ingesting spent lead-shot pellets, which can cover popular hunting grounds at high densities.
Lead fragments also needlessly poison and kill millions of other birds each year, including bald eagles and swans. The NRA moved to intervene in a suit filed by conservationists seeking a public process for EPA to consider regulating toxic lead in hunting ammunition. A similar petition filed earlier this year was supported by nearly 150 public-interest groups in 38 states.
“Americans don’t want eagles and condors and other wildlife dying from lead poisoning. The EPA can step in now and stop this epidemic with some common-sense solutions, but the NRA is standing in the way,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’ve removed toxic lead from gasoline, paint and most products exposing humans to lead poisoning; it’s past time to do the same with hunting ammunition, to protect our country’s wildlife.”
The NRA, joined by Safari Club International, filed its motion to intervene in the pending suit The Trumpeter Swan Society v. EPA, filed on June 6 in the D.C. District Court. The case was filed under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which grants the EPA the authority to regulate toxic substances, including lead bullets and shot contained in ammunition. The suit is aimed at common-sense regulations for lead hunting ammunition.
“The NRA knows full well that switching to nontoxic ammo is not about restricting hunting — it’s about ending preventable lead poisoning of birds and reducing health risks for people eating lead-shot game,” said Miller. “That’s why hunters are involved in efforts to get the lead out of the food chain. The nonlead hunting regulations that have been in effect in California since 2008 are a good model for hunting to continue with nontoxic materials.”
The NRA has also championed legislation to strip the EPA’s authority to regulate toxic lead in ammunition and fishing equipment under the Toxic Substances Control Act, even though effective nontoxic alternatives exist for lead ammunition and sinkers for all hunting and fishing activities.
“The NRA continues to stake out positions that are out of step with Americans — including hunters — who care about wildlife and who don’t want to see birds needlessly and unintentionally poisoned,” said Miller.
Nearly 150 organizations in 38 states have asked the EPA to regulate the toxic components of ammunition, the lead bullet and shot projectiles that cause poisoning of wildlife, under the Toxic Substances Control Act. The EPA has refused to act, leading to a lawsuit by conservation groups in June.
Lead ammunition also poses health risks for people eating game contaminated with lead bullet fragments, which can spread throughout the 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.
Alternatives to lead bullets and shotgun pellets include steel, copper and alloys of other metals, with satisfactory-to-superior ballistics. Hunters in areas with restrictions on lead ammunition have transitioned to hunting with nontoxic bullets.
For example, there has been no decrease in game tags or hunting activity since state requirements for nonlead hunting went into effect in significant portions of Southern California in 2008 to protect condors from lead poisoning.