The Great Debate over Lead Bullets
On Tuesday, an editorial in The New York Times took on the heated issue of lead ammunition. “What needs protecting,” it stated, “is wildlife that ingests the lead, including migratory waterfowl and birds of prey, notably California condors. Humans need protection, too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people show higher levels of lead in their blood after eating game killed with lead shot or bullets.” What doesn’t need protection, the editorial argued, are lead bullets and sinkers.
In "Bad Shot" in the May-June issue of Audubon, Ted Williams argues a similar point, noting that despite cheap, readily available alternatives, most American sportsmen still use lead ammunition and fishing tackle. To wildlife’s detriment. He writes:
When lead is ingested the body mistakes it for beneficial metals, incorporating it into the brain, eyes, kidneys, liver, and other vital tissues, which it damages. Most humans survive plumbism (lead poisoning), albeit with diminished mental and motor function, and victims are prone to violence and crime. Children are especially vulnerable because the growth process requires a heavy intake of metals.
In wildlife, plumbism is rarely survivable or diagnosed. To make it in the wild, all animals require full capacity. So plumbism causes mortality wrongly attributed to predation, starvation, roadkill, or collisions. So far 130 species have been known to ingest lead ammunition. There is no such thing as a “safe” or “normal” blood-lead level.
But the gun lobby is strong, Williams writes, and despite studies showing the harm this substance causes to animals—bald and golden eagles, tundra swans, ducks—and humans, we’re fighting the same century-old battle. “Today—after the public has watched for 117 years as waterfowl and other wildlife die from swallowing lead shot and bullet fragments—the mantra from the gun lobby that plumbism publicity is a plot to disarm America remains unchanged.”
Right now, S.838, Hunting, Fishing, and Recreational Shooting Protection Act—the act against which the Times railed—sits in the Committee on Environment and Public Works. Whether it will pass remains to be seen. But there are actions you can take now:
- Tell your legislators to oppose bills (like S. 838) that would strip the EPA of authority to regulate ammunition and fishing tackle.
- If you hunt, switch to nontoxic ammunition.
- If you fish, switch to nontoxic sinkers and jigheads.
- If you know sportsmen, show them this article.