EPA Backs Down From Banning the Use of Lead in Ammunition – Part One

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We often read about environmental degradation in developing countries from China to Peru polluting water sources, soil and air quality with emissions from metal refineries and the like. It wasn’t so long ago that similar stories galvanized law makers into action in the US to pass strict environmental laws and strengthen the powers of organizations like the EPA. So it is interesting to read the debate raging in the gun industry about the use of lead in bullets and shot. Many of the arguments for and against sound not so different from those used by industrialists and those living in the neighborhood of industrial sites decades ago.

The NY Times ran an article last week with a pro ban line reporting how the EPA had made an about face in turning down a ban on the use of lead in the manufacture of hunting ammunition. The EPA said it lacked the legal authority to regulate lead in that form. The paper suggested this had more to do with pressure from the NRA who along with gun industry associations have been strongly against banning the use of lead.   The NYT article promotes the line that a bullet should kill only once, not again and again as the lead in un-recovered carcasses is scavenged by other birds and animals resulting in widespread lead poisoning.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) ” the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry has come out strongly against a nationwide ban on lead ammunition, urging gun users to lobby the EPA and media with a number of points which can be seen on their blogsite. Two points stand out. First, the NSSF along with much of the gun lobby call into question the scientific basis for a ban and second, they suggest any reduction in the use of lead ammunition would seriously damage conservation measures due to the loss of the 11% federal excise tax that manufacturers pay on the sale of the ammunition, which, they say, forms a primary source of wildlife conservation funding. The NSSF states the bald eagle’s recovery, considered to be a great conservation success story, was made possible and funded by hunters using traditional lead based ammunition. The first point we will address momentarily but the tax raising issue would seem a simple one – why not apply the same tax rate on alternative non lead ammunition, surely that would continue to raise an equivalent level of revenue while avoiding the claimed damage caused by the use of lead? No one is suggesting hunters should not be allowed to hunt, the debate is purely about what metals are used in the ammunition.

As to scientific evidence to support claims that the use of lead ammunition is harmful to wildlife, an Environmental News Service article from last month quotes George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, commenting on their petition sent to the EPA to ban the use of lead, “The science on this issue is massive in breadth and unimpeachable in its integrity. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies show continued lead poisoning of large numbers of birds and other animals (has resulted from the use of lead ammunition). The same article advises significant statistics – In the United States, 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunting every year and another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, (while 4,000 tons are lost in ponds and streams as fishing lures and sinkers another significant source of lead introduced into the wild). The petitioning groups claim at least 10 million birds from 75 species plus many other animals die each year from lead poisoning in the US.

We will continue this story and examine the evidence in a follow-up post later today.

–Stuart Burns

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