The idea of getting the lead out of ammunition is one that has caused heated debate both inside and outside the shooting industry. Today, there are non-lead cartridges available in virtually any caliber, but that doesn't mean the industry is anywhere near giving lead up.
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency denied a petition from the American Bird Conservancy and a group of animal-rights based organizations asking that the EPA broaden its mandate to outlaw lead as a component of ammunition. It is not in the EPA's purview to regulate ammunition, but the petition had suggested the EPA use its authority to ban lead as a component in both ammunition and fishing tackle.
In the end, the EPA denied both components of the petition, citing several reasons, including a lack of comprehensive evidence to support the petition.
On Friday, the American Bird Conservancy issued a press release outlining a new survey announced at the Society of Toxicology's annual meeting in Washington. That survey, the ABC contends, points to lead ammunition "as a primary factor limiting the survival and recovery of one of the country's most imperiled birds, the California Condor." (Editor's Note: You can read the ABC release here
This survey, conducted by scientists at the University of California/Santa Cruz, the University of Wyoming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service is "especially important and unique" according to Dr. Michael Fry, an avian toxicologist and Director of Conservation Advocacy for the ABC, not just because it cites lead as a major factor, but it "cites lead ammunition specifically."
Dr. Fry contends the survey provides the smoking gun, if you will, that dismisses a key argument from the ammunition industry: the lack of specific data to identify a source or sources of lead poisoning. This survey, he says, "connects the dots between condor deaths and lead ammunition."
The study was reportedly performed using 17 pre-release condors exposed to background levels of lead and 70 free-flying condors in California.
Blood was collected from the birds and compared to a representative selection of 71 lead-based ammunitions. Purportedly, the results show the lead signature of free-flying condors as different from that of the pre-release birds.
That difference, the ABC contends, proves that an overwhelming majority of the free-flying condors had been exposed to lead-based ammunition.
Further, the ABC says, the levels in thirty-five percent of the birds was at toxic levels.
With a pair of government agencies signed on to this survey, the results will undoubtedly be used to reopen the issue of lead in ammunition.
With non-lead ammunitions available for virtually any firearm, the argument for non-viable alternatives to lead has already been considerably weakened.
While the study would seem to weaken the case for lead's continued usage in modern ammunition, the release then goes on to cite the 2008 controversy over lead ammunition in venison.
In that instance, a Centers for Disease Control report regarding human exposure to lead in venison recommended "food pantries and their clients should be made aware of possible lead fragments in venison."
That led to the North Dakota Health Department halting venison distribution in food pantries. In Minnesota, more than a thousand pounds of venison headed for food pantries was disposed of. Later, both the original study -and the lead levels- were found to be a questionable threat to public health.
Despite the fact that much of the rhetoric about lead from animal rights groups is more overblown than substantiated, this latest report will doubtless set the stage for another heated battle over lead in ammunition.
As always, we'll keep you posted.