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Lead Ban Chronicles – The Sad State Of Education About Lead Ammo

April 26, 2012

I’m probably not going to make a lot of friends for this, but I’m laying it out there anyway.  It’s nothing I haven’t said before, but right now I feel like it bears repeating.

I believe that lead bullets, bullet fragments, and shot are killing condors.  Whether it’s the “number one” threat to their survival is debatable,  but I’m convinced that the evidence is clear.  When a condor feeds on a carcass or gutpile and ingests lead, there is a real possibility that the lead will sicken and possibly kill the bird.

I’m not saying that they don’t get lead from other sources too.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they do.  There’s metallic lead all over the landscape in the west, from paint chips on old homesteads and barns, to lead-coated telegraph wire, to tire weights and other micro-trash.  I have little doubt that all of these factor into the mortality rate.  But so do hunters’ bullets.

How was I convinced?  By reading, constantly, since this issue first came to my attention.  There is no shortage of information out there, and if you can sift through it, even a layman can make enough sense of it to see what’s going on.  I also learned by talking to people involved in the research and remediation programs.  While it’s been pretty easy to assign an anti-hunting/anti-gun agenda to the condor recovery folks, the truth is that many of the people on the inside of this thing are actually quite supportive of hunting… and are often hunters themselves.  They don’t want to ban hunting, or guns… and in most cases, they don’t even want to ban lead ammunition.

Call me naive, but I don’t think that’s just lip service.  I believe them, and I believe that they truly just want to see the condor survive.  Beyond that, they want to see hunters voluntarily reduce their negative impacts on other birds, particularly raptors.  And one way to do that is to be more conscientious about the ammunition we use, and in how we dispose of the byproducts of the hunt… the carcass and offal.  See, it’s not all about switching to lead-free ammo.  There are other things we can be doing to minimize the impact of lead ammo.  But few people get to hear that part of the discussion anymore.

The problem is a common one in this age of instantaneous information exchange (the Internet) and extreme polarization of political attitidues.  Add to that the fact that extreme organizations have taken up the “cause”, and with a barrage of misinformation, propaganda, and dogma they’ve painted the situation in an entirely different light.  It became a battle of “us” vs. “them”… hunters and gun  owners against the anti-hunters and anti-gun folks.  The real issue (the survival of the California condor) was soon lost amidst the noise, and voices of reason were drowned under hyperbole, hysteria, and outright lies.

It’s come to the point where the Center for Biological Diversity (an organization I once respected) has gathered a coalition to repeatedly petition the EPA to ban lead bullet components outright.  Of course the problem is that the CBD does not have any evidence to support a federal ban on the basis of environmental or human health risks, despite the fact that their petition makes both claims. Besides the endangered California condor, no other raptor, scavenger, or other species is at large scale risk from the continued use of lead ammunition. Individual birds are dying, which is tragic, but hardly cause for a national ban on something as widely used as lead ammunition.

Each petition is, of course, followed by a lawsuit, and each lawsuit fails.  But every time the situation requires the assignment of Federal Government resources.  This costs money.  It’s a contest of attrition.  (In California, the impending costs of defending lawsuits had more to do with the passage of AB 821 than the smattering of scientific evidence presented to the Commission.)  The CBD has nothing better to do than batter the walls of the EPA indefinitely.  Sooner or later, like Jericho, the walls will probably come down.

The CBD has also become a public relations juggernaut, flooding newspapers, magazines and blogs with “press releases” claiming that lead bullets are responsible for the wholesale destruction of bird populations, from mourning doves and swans to bald eagles.  Despite the fact that the releases are full of misinformation, readers are buying it because they simply don’t know any better.  Non-hunters and hunters alike are suddenly decrying the use of lead, and attacking hunters and shooters who still use this arcane and lethal ammunition… all based on spurious claims that are unquestionably repeated in the media.

And in this corner, the NRA…

The 800 lb. gorilla knows nothing of finesse or subtlety.  In concert with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the NRA has issued release after release to its constituency claiming that the lead ban effort is nothing but an anti-hunting/anti-gun sneak attack and has absolutely no merit.  Rather than attack the CBD’s claims with fact, the organization resorts to the same campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering to carry the message that lead ammo is benign and “traditional”.

People aren’t hearing what they need to hear… especially hunters.

I recently read a letter to the editor in the Ventura County Star, in which the writer attempted to explain that a wind power project was not a threat to condors.  He then made the rhetorical mistake (in my opinion) of comparing the negligible threat of wind farms to the threat from lead ammo.  Right or wrong, he unleashed a firestorm of comments which were, unfortunately, entirely uneducated about the lead ammo issue.  At this time, I really thought people knew a little more about the situation, but I guess I over-estimated… again.

It’s time, past time, for education… not propaganda.  Let the battle continue in Washington, D.C.  I hope right and reason win the day.  But for our immediate needs, it’s really important that we start talking sense about lead ammo, it’s real impacts, and provide people with the information they need to make the personal decisions about what changes they want to make.

Call me stupid, but I honestly believe that most hunters don’t want to incidentally kill birds or animals that they’re not targeting.  None of us wants to poison an eagle, or even a raven.  Of course, statistically, I think most of us are perfectly OK if we never change a thing… especially those of us who aren’t hunting in the condor zones.  The odds of our specific bullet or shot pellets poisoning a raptor are fairly slim.  But the chance is there, and I know a lot of conscientious hunters out there who would like to mitigate that chance.

The problem is, whenever a site shows up to provide that information, such as the Peregrine Fund or Wildlife Studies Institute, they’re immediately lumped in with the anti-hunting/anti-gun organizations and discounted.  Or else, they’re just ignored.  We’ve somehow got to get past this.

I also think educating individuals is good and well, but the truth is that real education needs to start at higher levels.  On the media side, we need to hear voices of reason coming from the movers and shakers in the big magazines, major blogs, and even on the television.  The opportunities abound.  For example, Pig Man has been sponsored by Hornady for a while now, and has used the Hornady GMX bullet quite extensively.  The GMX is lead free, but that fact has seldom been mentioned.  He uses the bullet because it’s effective.  I doubt the lead-free aspect has any bearing at all, but it would still be worth mention.

I know some of the major outdoor media sources are probably a little timid about diving into the politically charged waters, but there’s no need to make it a political issue.  Simply present it as a personal choice with some rationale.  Don’t force it down anyone’s throat.  Or do!  I’d love to see some of the top hunting magazines come out and write a clear article about the lead ammo issue, the real threats as they’re currently understood, and various practices hunters and shooters can take to mitigate those threats.  But all I’ve seen so far either tip-toes around it or regurgitates press releases from the NSSF.

Education is also badly, badly needed at gunshops.  These places are often hotbeds of misinformation and myth anyway, and some of the things I’ve heard about lead free ammo are almost funny… except these folks really believe it.  What’s more, they’re passing this on to customers who are trying to make a good ammo-buying decision.  Nothing is going to stop a gun shop owner or employee from passing along an opinion to a customer.  That is simply a fact.  But if someone could present some non-political information about lead ammo, performance, and other choices that can mitigate lead impact (such as bonded bullets, shotgun slugs, etc.) to these folks, it would go a long way to helping customers make good choices.  An ideal place for a forum like this, by the way, would be the SHOT Show University, which offers several training programs to people in the gun and ammo industry.  But it wouldn’t hurt to take the message to the small, local shops as well.

We need honest conversation now.

Comments

13 Responses to “Lead Ban Chronicles – The Sad State Of Education About Lead Ammo”

  1. Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore on April 26th, 2012 04:54

    Great article, Phillip.

    Among other fine thoughts, you wrote: “The problem is a common one in this age of instantaneous information exchange (the Internet) and extreme polarization of political attitudes. . . . The real issue (the survival of the California condor) was soon lost amidst the noise, and voices of reason were drowned under hyperbole, hysteria, and outright lies. . . . I honestly believe that most hunters don’t want to incidentally kill birds or animals that they’re not targeting.”

    Amen. I’ll be posting links to this on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

  2. Phillip on April 26th, 2012 06:51

    Thanks, Tovar. Appreciate the sharing!

    Although it appears I lost a paragraph at the end here. Hmm… gotta fix that.

  3. Steve on April 26th, 2012 07:23

    Look at salmon eggs you get for fishing. There is lead in them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve lost the egg off of a hook without landing a fish. I am sure some fish ate it. Why on God’s earth would we use lead for something like that. I stopped using it for that very reason. So a fish eats 10 eggs and I don’t get him, the next guy catches him and the lead in him is at dangerous levels.

    Crazy

  4. Howard Meyerson on April 26th, 2012 07:27

    Phil, Thank you for putting it out there. It can’t be said enough. I sat in on a lengthy, in-depth panel discussion out in Utah on this topic last year where NSSF was presenting along with other sides.CBD was not there. The cases presented made it clear that there are affordable ammo alternatives, real evidence of harm and/or potential harm, and that the NSSF didn’t want to hear it, or at least, appeared so.

  5. Joshua on April 26th, 2012 08:16

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Phillip. The biggest problem of many environmental impacts is that we simply do not know, and so rely upon anecdote and flat-out legend in making our decisions. What we need are geographically related studies that look at all impacts and set priorities for those that are the biggest.

    I will add what I know about AB 821 because I worked for a nonprofit conservation group that weighed in on the issue at the time. There was a schism within the community that was working on lead in condor country: one side wanted to work through the Commission on a complete ban on all lead ammunition throughout the State; the other had decided that condors should be the focus as they were in grave danger of extirpation and needed immediate relief, and the evidence pointed at lead ammo. as a major cause in condor deaths.

    Thanks again, Phillip. I know you will catch flak for this, and I appreciate your willingness to still write about it.

  6. Neil H on April 26th, 2012 08:26

    Hi Phillip,

    Thanks for keeping this issue in peoples minds. I couldn’t agree with you more. I thought the folks posting from the Peregrine Foundation and Arizona Fish and Wildlife were sincere in there efforts. There are certainly those who are willing to highjack this issue to further a separate ideology. There are also those who won’t question any use of lead- also out of ideology or perhaps the fear of a slippery slope. I’m not keen on where that puts hunters and fisherman in regards to environmental thought in terms of real action and public perception.

    There’s a certain set of hunters that follows the notion that any environmental concerns are some evil machination of the “left” or ‘liberals’. Huh? Hunters fairly invented modern environmentalism. I frequently have to remind folks that it was Nixon that signed off on the Clean Air and Water Act. I personally feel that they are being manipulated for other purposes, and I don’t get the idea that unregulated strip mining or whatever is somehow good for the outdoorsman.

    I don’t doubt that we’re facing some folks that have ulterior motives or don’t have our best interests at heart. I just don’t want to let opposition to them blind us to genuine concerns. I actually think “doing the right thing” will diminish the power such groups have to drive the conversation.

  7. Leland on April 26th, 2012 13:05

    Phillip,

    As usual you seem to cut right to the heart of the matter. This is what we, at the Institute for Wildlife Studies, and others have been trying to do for some time. Education, education, education. What it comes down to is the need to present information, as unbiased as possible, to hunters and allow them to make educated decisions. Unfortunately many organizations, from both sides, have made the idea of switching to non-lead ammunition distasteful with propaganda instead of factual information.

    Many groups or hunters that I attempt to talk to simply shut the door as soon as they here the words “non-lead.” It has been so politicized that the idea that the voluntary use of non-lead isn’t necessarily anti-hunting or anti-Second Amendment has been completely lost. Even having me come down and allow people to test different types of non-lead ammunition, for FREE, is not ok because in doing so somehow they are supporting further bans on lead bullets. In fact, I believe the opposite to be true. The more hunters that voluntarily use non-lead for hunting, the less anti-hunting groups have to complain about. We could completely cut off any attempts to ban hunting using data on lead exposure from hunting bullets, simply by promoting the voluntary use of non-lead ammo.

    It is true, there are always those who will try to hijack information for their own purposes. That just means that it is all the more important for those with some rationality remaining to become involved in the conversation. As Phillip says, most hunters I have talked to want one bullet, one kill. Hearing that the remnants of their round has the potential to accidentally kill other animals isn’t on the list of things that make them happy, even if it isn’t affecting populations.

    As I’ve said before, anyone who is interested in a chance to test non-lead ammo, be given factual information and an opportunity for open discussion can feel free to contact me at brown@iws.org.

  8. J.R. Young on April 26th, 2012 14:52

    Great post Phillip, I think you illustrated so much that is wrong with general communication and discussion today. The subject or issue quickly becomes ignored and hyberbole and rhetoric takes over and the oppsosing sides head off onto some witch hunt or diatribe. CBD, NRA, Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olberman, Rebublicans, Democrats it’s all the same, frustrating, nonsense that offers nothing but for some reason plays perfectly into the blinders worn by the user.

    I was listening to the radio the other morning and a there was a submission from a listerner on “How to avoid a fat lip” or 10 ways to have opinions worth listening to. For me, it was spot on with my frustrations surrounding so many issues I am concerned about.

    One: Shut up. How can you hear, absorb and understand if you won’t listen? I had to learn this the hard way.

    Two: Shock your ears. A musician friend had to learn music she didn’t care for. While she never fell in love with it, she admitted it did — like opposing opinions — open her ears.

    Three: Don’t be a sheep. A speaker who talks about idiots and imbeciles is using emotion to collect followers. Chances are he’s ignoring facts to obscure the truth.

    Four: Keep the baby. Listen for aspects of an argument that do make sense. In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Search for nuggets of truth.

    Five: Stop Guessing. Don’t assume a person is a group. Assigning someone beliefs they don’t have misses the opportunity to find common ground.

    Six: Be wrong. Politicians are crucified for being flip-floppers. But what if new information enlightens you? It’s your obligation to change your mind if the truth leads you there.

    Seven: Read more. The written word allows you to understand in ways hearing cannot. You react to fiery speech. You absorb written arguments.

    Eight: Don’t Know. If you only have an opinion of convenience, admit it. “I don’t know” are the three wisest and least heard words in the English language.

    Nine: Open the Shed. Collect facts with a variety of tools until you know what you’re talking about. Research sharpens you.

    And last but most important: Laugh it Off. Humor separates the successful from the rest. It indicates a desire to play, and if others will play with you, I guarantee the fat lips will be few and far between.

  9. Tony on April 26th, 2012 15:09

    Dear Phillip,
    While perhaps I am disappointed in your decision, it’s not surprising. I can only assume that you are taking the studies and the representations being made to you at face value, and from certain people you have met and have had an ongoing conversation with.

    Public record documents that have been submitted to the Fish & Game Commission show otherwise. These include evidence of deletion/omission of data, exclusion of calculations, one-tailed selection of samples, and a “have it both ways” approach to the issue of lead dosages claimed from ammunition.

    I disagree with the premise that one can claim the threat of micro-particle dosing of lead through fragmenting of ammunition, when key studies like Hunt 2009 result in very minor increases of blood lead at best in a select and otherwise small (4 pigs) sample being tested. This is in my mind re-enforced by the reality that “xray” films are not definitive to the nature of those indications found in those xrays. “Positive” indications may be lead dust, but they are more likely to be sheared copper and can also be non-ammunition-related contamination from the environment (grains of soil have been documented to show up as a positive indication in xray films.). All of these alternate materials can contain lead in them, and thus bias samples and resultant claims in research material.

    I firmly believe that the science is still so questionable that even the generic comments about a lack of science by NRA and NSSF from the national level are highly supportable.

    As for the NRA being the “800 pound gorilla”, the modern effort by NRA volunteers to halt the lead ammo ban over condors started in June in 2007 in Truckee, California. It was there that the first presentations at a Fish & Game Commission hearing were made disputing the claims made by the Condor Team at the time. In this case, it was the volunteers taking a primary role in the California matter.

    The operating budget for those, and subsequent, presentations and research at that time was a whopping $ 0.00. It was a volunteer lead effort from the AB 821 standpoint, until the Governor’s signature on October 13, 2007.

    And by October in 2007, we had presented what we still believe are the defects in the assumptions in Fry 2003 that only lead from ammunition can be the sole plausible sources of lead to condors. Evidence included Dr. Mee’s work on microtrash, Dunlap-Flegal-Steding’s work on lead isotopic range in the environment, and evidence of widespread sources of lead that are otherwise being ignored by the Condor Team.

    If it were not for “l Affaire” Hanna in August of 2007, I think we were close to obtaining a voluntary program in California rather than the mandatory ban under AB 821. Given the state of politics in California, that would have been a “win”under the given realities of that day.

    While a number of sources claim Hanna was ousted due to NRA activities/lobbying, I know that to be not true. “Our” people were talking the “turkey” of the science with Commissioner Hanna. We were engaged in discourse with the man, and trying to make our case like any other citizens discussing a matter with a public official. It was highly counter-productive to have had such a number of talks with Hanna, to still be engaged in providing him scientific material, and then have others step in and get him removed.

    Oddly enough, later public document material demonstrated quite a flap internally to the Condor Team when a draft document that could be reasonably used to make the case for a voluntary program was discussed outside of a subcommittee within the Condor Team. This accidental revelation happened just as Governor Schwarzenegger was considering AB 821 at his desk. Whether he ever got to see that difference of opinion between Condor Team members is another matter, left for later research.

    While there was a later budget in the efforts in 2009 and 2010, it was largely spent on obtaining public record documents, as well as the preparation of legal briefs and related report documents. If it was not for that effort, the material that I personally consider to be evidence of scientific misconduct would have never seen the light of day, and the lead shot ban in Condor Country would already be in effect.

    If the lead ban side’s arguments are so convincing, why hide the data? Why cherry pick the data? Why use statistical manipulation? Why hide other mortality causes? Why redact necropsies subject to a public document request, as the US Fish & Wildlife Service did in June 2009? Why have the USFWS and NPS fund ammunition “education” efforts for alternative materials, while at the same time document known toxicities behind the scenes? Why recommend ammunition per Federal Regulation as qualifying as nontoxic, only to have National Park Service ban tungsten back in 2006 for it’s personnel?

    See: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/CurrentBirdIssues/nontoxic.htm

    I could point out other discrepancies, but I am sure you have bandwidth limits somewhere.

    I understand that there can be substantial pressure on outdoor journalists to accept the well-funded arguments of such groups as Audubon. Other outdoor writers also have run into controversy when they decide to chose the restrictive side on a topic where the science, evidence and ulterior motives of “pro-ban” advocates is still in discovery.

    But as I have said before, a lead ban based upon the current body of questionable science is THE predicate for the ban of copper and the alternate materials currently available for ammunition. Those volunteers like myself continue to argue against any predicate for any ammunition ban. Whether we do it by science, or by public activism, or even by a combined effort involving science and lobbying for Federal exemptions, I believe we are motivated enough to carry the day.

    Respectfully,

    Anthony Canales

  10. Phillip on April 26th, 2012 16:15

    Thanks all.

    Steve, I have intentionally stayed clear of the fishing discussion as I’m simply not educated enough on that one. I don’t know much about the tackle and gear that’s used for most inland fishing, and very little of my offshore fishing gear carries as much consequence from what little I’ve read.

    Howard, there are SOME “affordable” alternatives to lead ammo, but they are generally not as widely available or affordable as some folks would have us believe. However, if you shoot a standard caliber and a gun that’s not too picky about the ammo it uses, you can probably find a very good lead-free bullet to use. This is still a key issue to me, because a lead ammo ban would essentially take a lot of guns out of commission… at least for the short term.

    Leland, thanks for the work so far… and an extended thank you to Jake. I hope you find less doors slamming in the future, and I do seriously think you guys, Kathy, and Chris should consider making your own doorways to educate further up the food chain. I think there are opportunities, but the challenge will be getting past preconceptions.

    Good list, J.R. I think I try to follow most of those tenets, but I’m not perfect.

    And Tony. The rest of this reply is primarily for you.

    Nothing I have seen from you (and I’ve paid very close attention) has given me any cause to doubt that lead bullets, fragments, and shot are harmful to condors (or other scavengers) when ingested. What you haven’t done, anywhere, is prove that lead ammunition is NOT toxic to scavenger birds.

    The body of circumstantial evidence is simply too large to deny, Tony. Short of an absolute smoking gun that shows that no birds ever sicken or die from the ingestion of spent lead projectiles, it’s time for common sense to prevail. You can’t keep denying truth just because you think it will expose an even larger truth. That’s a tactic destined to fail… spectacularly.

    Are spent lead projectiles and fragments a major problem in the big picture? Have the condor/anti-lead advocates “doctored” evidence to make the problem look worse than it really is? I don’t know, and in the context of this current post, it’s absolutely irrelevant.

    The everyday hunters out there need information… real information… that they can use NOW.

    They need to know that lead free bullets are effective, but there are considerations that can increase that effectiveness. It’s time to dispense with the mythology that all lead-free bullets are like the old Barnes monolith that passes right through an animal. I can offer first hand experience to the effectiveness of big game rifle bullets from Barnes, Hornady, Nosler, Winchester, Remington, and Lapua… handgun bullets from Barnes… as well as rimfire ammunition from Winchester and Federal/CCI.

    They need to know that it can be difficult to find lead-free ammo, especially for archaic and obscure calibers… but sometimes it’s even hard to find the standards. In five visits to the Post Falls, ID Cabelas, I couldn’t find a box of .270WIN lead-free, and I’ve been to several small shops around the country that don’t have a single box of lead-free ammo on the shelf.

    They need to know that switching from lead isn’t the only thing they can do to mitigate potential impacts. There are other bullet types and compositions that are resistant to fragmentation, and tests show that most shotgun slugs and muzzleloader bullets seldom tend to fragment at all. There are also simple methods for disposal of offal and carcasses that will keep the scavenger birds away from them.

    They need to know the truth about the potential impacts of lead ammo… on scavengers (highly likely, but generally not a major problem), the environment, (isolated cases and unusual conditions) and on human health (negligible). If they’re going to speak out against a lead ban (and I believe they should), they should be speaking out with educated voices… otherwise they lose all credibility and do more harm than good.

    And most of all, they should understand that the choice to switch or not should be an individual decision that balances their personal conservation ethics with the practicality of switching (cost, availability, etc.). To make that decision, they need to be informed with facts.

  11. Jim Petterson on April 26th, 2012 21:44

    Hi Phillip,

    You didn’t need to stick your neck out as you’ve done, but as usual you have concisely summarized a very complex topic in an accurate manner. While I no longer am directly involved in the condor program or hunter education in California, I continue to pursue the issue in Idaho whenever I can. You are correct in saying that many of those involved with the condor program are avid hunters. I can count at least 15 that I know of off the top of my head. My experience in talking with a lot of hunters over the years is that they are slowly becoming aware of the issues associated with the use of lead bullets. When they understand the potential threats to non-target wildlife and various alternatives that are available to reduce those impacts in an atmosphere lacking polarizing extremes, they usually want to do what they can to mitigate undesired outcomes. Much more can and should be done and you’ve identified some outstanding options. Thanks for your insights!

    I’ve been reading the exchanges on your blog over few weeks between everyone and I feel that I need to respond to Tony’s inaccurate assertions about x-rays and lead bullet fragments. I have been involved in shooting a wide variety of “traditional” lead bullets into perhaps 60 different ballistic gel blocks on various occasions and documenting the results. Lots of other people have too – Chris Parish has probably shot over a hundred gel blocks. While you can argue that they are not EXACTLY the same as animal tissue in terms of density, I think it’s accepted by ballistics folks that they are a good approximation. An added benefit of the gels is that they are transparent and thus you can readily distinguish lead bullet fragments from sheared-off copper jackets and pebbles very easily. I can tell you that the VAST majority of the time, the “wound channel” along the bullet’s path contains lead pieces, from dust-sized to large chunks. Yes, you find an occasional copper jacket piece now and then, but mainly you find lead. Of course, it’s worse in a real animal if the bullet strikes bone. So it comes as no surprise that the whole animal studies have found lots of lead in the carcasses.

    I’ve also assisted with x-raying many deer and pig carcasses and it’s pretty easy to clean the hair and hide of any small rocks and pebbles on the outside of the entry wound to minimize these materials from appearing in an x-ray. There is a reason that the tiny size of the “lead dust” particles in an x-ray are so important in having the potential to increase blood lead levels in whatever ingested them. It is due to the much greater associated surface-to-volume ratio of these particles. When these particles enter the very acidic GIT tract of a bird, their small size makes it much easier for the lead to be leached into the bloodstream. An analogy can be made by comparing the length of time it takes shaved ice to melt on a table at room temperature as opposed to larger ice cubes.

    And yes Tony, unlike what you’ve been asserting for so long, elemental lead found in bullets and shell shot DOES get leached away in both bird and mammals stomachs, which is what the lead dosing studies of bald eagles and Andean condors showed so conclusively. The Peregrine Fund study on pigs that Tony mentioned also demonstrated conclusively that it only took one day for the small amount of lead ingested by pigs to show up in the pig’s bloodstream. I’ll also point out that in this study, the fragments in the ground venison were identified specifically as lead and were not copper jacket pieces or rocks.

    These bullet fragmentation studies are straightforward to duplicate and I urge Tony or anyone else that doubts the results to give it a try.

  12. Phillip on April 27th, 2012 07:12

    Great to hear from you, Jim! Thought you must have disappeared back into the Andes or something.

    As far as sticking my neck out, I guess I’m really not saying anything new here… just clarifying what I think I’ve been saying for a while. Mine may not be the popular stance amongst hunting and shooting communicators, but then, I’ve got very little at stake here. I’m just a small-time blogger. I doubt anyone is going to boycott my advertisers, and if they did, I’m pretty sure I’d never know the difference anyway. It’s not like I make my living off of this thing.

    But I also feel like what I’m saying shouldn’t be all that controversial anyway. The fact that someone would make it so is symptomatic of the bigger problem. But I can’t help that right now. However, as you’ve observed, I believe there are some folks out there who are moving past the political side of this and simply looking for practical options. They aren’t any more in support of a lead ban than I am, but as individuals they want to do what they believe is right or good… or maybe they just want to err on the safe side. They should have the support and information they need to do so, without the rhetoric and hyperbole.

    Anyway, in regards to that pig study, the part I’d like to see followed up is, why did their blood lead levels drop back near normal so quickly? In the paper, there was speculation that it could be sequestering, but it could also be filtered and excreted. The former would, obviously, be more of a concern from a health perspective than the latter… especially since their systems are so similar to our own. Similar results are suggested in the studies of bears, where there appears to be a temporary blood-lead level increase during and immediately after hunting season and then returns near baseline during the summer (these studies have far less controls than the pig study, though). In the absence of documented, or even anecdotal, evidence of human health impacts of lead bullet fragments and shot, I’d love to understand more about why we are different and maybe identify where any potential risks actually lie (e.g small children and nursing mothers, or the elderly). Or can we demonstrate once and for all that there simply is no human health risk?

  13. Jim on April 27th, 2012 09:47

    You raise a good point as to why the blood lead values in the pigs declined so rapidly. I do know that there are complex interplays and pathways going on inside the body between the various tissue compartments (blood/plamsa, organs and bones) once lead enters the bloodstream. When you factor in the ability of the liver and kidneys to eliminate lead, you have a pretty daunting task of trying to measure the relative rate at which lead is eliminated from the body while also being transferred between compartments. The half lives associated with blood lead depuration (excretion) are quite different also (days/weeks, months and years, respectively in the 3 compartments). My guess is that someone within the medical research profession would have a good idea how to determine it, since lead has been studied quite extensive in vertebrate systems.

    What makes it even more complex in wild scavengers is the confounding variable of the lead burden stored in tissues from previous exposure events. When an ailing condor or eagle is being treated for lead poisoning, this past exposure history is unknown to the veterinarians, and results in real difficulties in interpreting what the blood lead levels measurements are reflecting as to what’s going on inside the animal being treated. A young bird being treated for the first time without much lead in the system can respond quite differently to the same treatment regime than an older bird with a history of lead exposure.

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