Dear EarthTalk: What's the big deal about lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle? If an animal is going to die anyway, it's not going to get lead poisoning, right? -- Bill Joyce, Euclid, Ohio
The issue of lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle isn't so much about lead contaminating the spoils of hunters and fishermen but about lead accumulating in our ecosystems and poisoning other animals that ingest it.
"Lead is an extremely toxic element that we've sensibly removed from water pipes, gasoline, paint and other sources dangerous to people," reported the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). "Yet toxic lead is still entering the food chain through widespread use of lead hunting ammunition and fishing tackle, poisoning wildlife and even threatening human health."
The group reports that at least 75 wild bird species in the United States -- including bald eagles, golden eagles, ravens and endangered California condors -- are routinely poisoned by spent lead ammunition. Meanwhile, every year thousands of cranes, ducks, swans, loons, geese and other waterfowl ingest spent lead shot or lead fishing sinkers lost in lakes and rivers "often with deadly consequences."
"Animals that scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments, or wading birds that ingest spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights mistaking them for food or grit, can die a painful death from lead poisoning, while others suffer for years from its debilitating effects," reported CBD.
Across the U.S., some 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunters every year. Another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, and 4,000 tons in fishing lures and sinkers are lost in ponds and streams. CBD estimates that as many as 20 million birds and mammals in the U.S. die every year as a result.
Of course, lead ammunition also poses health risks to people, especially those consuming hunted meat. "Lead bullets explode and fragment into minute particles in shot game and can spread throughout meat that humans eat," CBD reported. "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, causing a greater health risk to humans who consume lead-shot game than previously thought."
CBD launched its Get the Lead Out campaign in March 2012 to raise awareness about the issue and help build support for a federally mandated transition to non-toxic bullets, shot and fishing gear. The coalition includes groups from 38 different states representing conservationists, birders, hunters, scientists, veterinarians, Native Americans and public employees. In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied the coalition's request to take toxic lead out of hunting ammunition. In response, CBD and six other groups filed suit against EPA in June for refusing to address the problem.
Opponents of CBD (such as the National Rifle Association/NRA) are on the offensive, supporting the Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012 (HR 4089), a bill that aims to open up more federal land to hunting, limit the President's ability to invoke the Antiquities Act to designate new protected lands, and prevent the EPA from regulating ammunition containing lead, among other provisions. The bill recently passed a floor vote in the House of Representatives, but political analysts doubt it will make it through the Senate.
Contacts: CBD's "Get the Lead Out," www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/get_the_lead_out/; Sportsmen's Heritage Act of 2012 on Govtrack, www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr4089.
Dear EarthTalk: Besides the presidential election, what other electoral races are environmentalists keeping an eye on this coming November? -- Matt Sloan, Sacramento
The nonprofit League of Conservation Voters (LCV) helps Americans sort out the good guys from the bad when it comes to the environmental track records of candidates in important high-level races across the country. Besides endorsing specific candidates, the group also keeps a running "dirty dozen" list of the politicians with the worst environmental records. Meanwhile, the group's LCV Action Fund is a related political action fund that can channel funding to the candidates it supports.
One of the races that LCV is following is New Mexico's Senate race between Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Heather Wilson. Both are hoping to leave the House for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Jeff Bingaman, who is retiring after four terms -- but that's where the similarity ends.
Heinrich has a perfect 100 percent lifetime score on LCV's National Environmental Scorecard, a yardstick used to rate Congress members on environmental and clean energy issues. He participates in the forward-thinking Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition and is a staunch defender of the federal government's ability to protect public health and hold polluters accountable under the Clean Air Act. Heinrich also supported the single largest investment in clean energy in history -- an economic recovery package that pledged $80 billion toward energy efficiency, renewable energy and public transit.
Meanwhile, as one of LCV's "Dirty Dozen," Heather Wilson has just a 15 percent LCV lifetime score as a member of the House. She is one of the House's top 20 recipients of funding from oil and gas interests, and has voted consistently to protect tax incentives and loopholes for oil and gas companies.
A coalition of green groups including the LCV Action Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund has spent $1.5 million in ads accusing Wilson of voting against New Mexico families and in favor of polluters -- an amount equal to what GOP-affiliated groups spent on pro-Wilson ads.
Another close one in a neighboring Southwestern state, Arizona, pits Democrat Richard Carmona (LCV's choice) against Republican Jeff Flake. "Throughout his career, Dr. Carmona has stood up for public health safeguards and would champion clean energy technologies that create jobs in Arizona and across the country," reports LCV, which has endorsed him. His opponent, 12-year incumbent Congressman and former uranium mining lobbyist Flake, has a nine percent lifetime score on LCV's scorecard.
Back east in Massachusetts, LCV has endorsed Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who vows to eliminate tax subsidies for Big Oil and uphold the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Her opponent, incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown, has a lifetime LCV score of 22 percent, and repeatedly votes to give billions in taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil, gut the Clean Air Act, and pull funding from renewable energy.
Overall, LCV is endorsing candidates in 12 Senate races and 29 House races around the country. For a complete list check the "endorsements" page of the lcv.org website. The group has also endorsed one gubernatorial candidate, Washington Democrat Jay Inslee, and one presidential candidate, Barack Obama.
Contact: LCV, www.lcv.org.
EarthTalk is by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of E -- The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.