By David Yarnold
A dangerous myth persists in the debate over the use of lead ammunition in hunting. It goes something like this: We can afford a little lead in the wilderness, and a little lead in your blood is just fine.
That wrong-headed idea still has some traction because lead ammunition is inexpensive and — in the words of those who cling to its use — “traditional.” (And when you hear that, it’s hard not to think about cigarette ads that used to feature doctors.) The notion that a “little lead won’t hurt you” hangs on because lead contamination is a quiet killer, crippling wildlife miles away from TV cameras and slowly poisoning people over a number of years.
Not a single reputable study supports the myth, and an abundance of studies say exactly the opposite: Lead ammunition left behind by hunters in nature, poses a serious threat to wildlife and to people.
It’s well understood that lead ammunition left in the field — either in carcasses or on the ground — finds its way into endangered California Condors, Golden Eagles, and other birds, causing them great harm. Don’t care much about birds? How about the lead on dinner tables across California?
Lead shatters into hundreds of pieces when it hits game targets. In many instances, the pieces are practically invisible to anything but an X-ray machine. A hunter just cannot clean it all out, and it ends up in the meat people eat. Even the most ardent opponents of restrictions on lead ammunition admit that you shouldn’t feed lead-hunted meat to children and pregnant women.
Back in 2007, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control found that people who ate meat hunted with lead ammunition had higher levels of lead in their bloodstream. So, this isn’t just about wildlife conservation; it’s about poison and public health.
In March, 30 top lead toxicity experts signed a letter of that said, plainly, that lead ammunition poses significant risks for people and wildlife, and that it should be removed from use. These researchers agree that lead-based ammunition is likely the largest unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States.
Among the researchers signing this consensus statement was Philip J. Landrigan, whose groundbreaking research into the effects of low-level lead exposure to children in the 1970s lead to bans on lead in gasoline and paint. It was Landrigan who established that even miniscule levels of lead could have disastrous effects on long-term health and brain development, particularly in children.
When a Golden Eagle lifts off, all of nature catches its breath. So it’s just painful to see one poisoned with lead from spent ammunition, its piercing eyes clouded, its giant wings hanging, those deadly talons frozen and useless.
But clearly this isn’t just about birds. Not even close.
Given that non-lead alternatives are widely available, the continued use of lead ammunition in our natural landscapes is a twisted science experiment that makes subjects out of our wildlife and our families.
The case against lead ammunition is closed. And our decision to stop its use isn’t about tradition or convenience or cost — it’s about finally doing the right thing.
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This post first appeared in the Huffington Post Green Blog on September 4, 2013.
David Yarnold became Audubon’s 10th president in September 2010, charged with leading a turnaround that would expand Audubon’s effectiveness while building on the organization’s strong conservation legacy. Under his leadership, Audubon’s distributed network is becoming a coordinated, collaborative force for hemispheric conservation. With 470 local Chapters, 21 state offices and 50 Audubon Centers across the country, Audubon connects nearly four million people using science, advocacy and education. “We are all Audubon,” Yarnold says. “No other organization has our wingspan when it comes to being able to drive conservation action, whether in individual backyards or in Congress.”
To read David Yarnold’s full bio, visit the Audubon Society’s website here.