Energy & Environment

Shooting holes in gun lobby’s dangerous addiction to lead ammo


It hardly came as a surprise that within days of President Trump taking office the National Rifle Association unloaded on the Obama administration’s science-based decision to begin the process of gradually getting the lead out of our most pristine refuges.

Looking to cash in on the $30 million it spent on pro-Trump ads, the NRA quickly insisted that the nation’s new Interior Secretary should quickly reverse the very reasonable plan to phase out use of lead ammo and fishing gear in U.S. refuges.

{mosads}Reversing the ban would require the president to ignore the scientific truth about the immense scope of the serious dangers to human health and wildlife posed by lead.


Every year in the United States, over 4,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunting, resulting in the poisoning deaths of an estimated 20 million birds and other animals.

U.S. Geological Survey researchers have found that many of the nation’s popular hunting areas are polluted with up to 400,000 pieces of lead shot per acre.

A group of top U.S. scientists, doctors and public health experts has concluded that lead ammunition is likely the single largest remaining source of lead added to the environment each year.

Not only do lead fragments and spent lead shot pellets kill wildlife that ingests them, but people who eat wild game shot with lead ammunition can be poisoned.

Scientists have made clear for decades that lead in even small doses poisons animals, slows brain development in children and causes a range of disabling human health problems, even death.

Of course, convincing those who profit from lead products to get the lead out has never been easy going in the U.S.


Obama’s parting shot against ammunition industry takes effect

The gasoline industry fought off regulation for decades by suggesting that, despite all the research to the contrary, lead was not a health risk. Then the industry wrongly insisted it couldn’t figure out how remove lead from gasoline.

Decades after research left no doubt that lead-based house paints were poisoning children, paint producers continued to argue their paints were safe.

Thanks to a common sense phase-out of dangerous toxic lead we now fill up our cars with unleaded gasoline and paint our houses with unleaded paint.

But now we’re seeing the same kind of self-serving push-back from the side of the pro-gun lobby which is working hard to convince Americans that they should fight to preserve their right to use lead ammo partly because no reasonable alternatives exist.

The facts suggest otherwise.

Waterfowl hunters nationwide have successfully used lead free ammunition for decades ever since lead shot was phased out in 1991.  In 2015 alone over 1 million hunters harvested over 13 million waterfowl with non-toxic ammunition.

And hunters have been successfully using copper rounds across large stretches of California since non-lead hunting ammunition requirements went into effect in 14 state counties seven years ago to prevent lead poisoning of endangered California condors. All hunting in California will be lead-free by 2019.

There are now many affordable, nontoxic alternatives to lead bullets in all 50 states. More than a dozen manufacturers market hundreds of varieties and calibers of non-lead bullets and shot made of steel, copper and alloys of other metals, with satisfactory-to-superior ballistics.

Some researchers have found no major difference in the retail price of equivalent lead-free and lead-core ammunition for most popular calibers.

For all those reasons, some of the strongest supporters of efforts to phase out lead ammunition are hunters who don’t want their families eating game poisoned with fragments of lead ammunition.

They understand that the decision to reduce the littering of our public lands with toxic lead ammo and fishing tackle helps protect wildlife and hunters, but will do nothing to reduce hunting or gun ownership.

There’s a good reason we got rid of lead in everything from house paints and gasoline to water pipes and children’s toys. It’s the same reason we should begin the thoughtful process of phasing out lead from ammunition.

When there are safer, cost effective options on the shelves why would we choose one that poisons bald eagles, game animals, and the hunters themselves?

Dr. Nathan Donley is a senior scientist in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Environmental Health Program. He has a Ph.D in developmental biology from Oregon Health and Sciences University.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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