Lead Poisoning of Wildlife

Three new scientific studies by University of California researchers confirm that lead poisoning of endangered California condors and other wildlife is due to scavenging animals ingesting fragments of spent lead hunting ammunition, reports the Center for Biological Diversity.

California Condor in flight against blue skyResearchers found that one-third of wild condors are suffering from chronic lead poisoning at levels that cause toxicological effects and sublethal impacts. The amount of lead in free-flying condors, which can scavenge on carcasses tainted with lead ammunition fragments, differs markedly from that in pre-release birds.

The research also demonstrates that lead exposure causes chronic, long-term health effects in condors as well as acute poisonings. Lead-poisoned condors must routinely be removed from the wild and subjected to stressful chelation treatment to save their lives.

The good news is that one study found that since lead ammunition was banned in condor habitat since 2008, lead has been effectively removed from the habitat. As a result, lead poisoning in condors, golden eagles and turkey vultures has been significantly reduced in those areas.

There are safe and available nontoxic alternatives for hunters and anglers that could be used in place of lead. Last November the Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and the hunting group Project Gutpile, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to regulate the use of toxic lead from hunting ammo and fishing gear that frequently poisons and kills eagles, swans, cranes, loons, condors, and other wildlife. Sadly, the EPA denied a formal petition to ban the lead in the ammo and tackle, in spite of nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers showing the ill effects of continuing to use lead.

So there’s a campaign on to end the use of toxic lead ammunition and fishing tackle. So far, 117 organizations in 30 states have joined the call for a federal ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle to prevent wildlife poisoning and safeguard human health. Hopefully the government will listen to them and enforce a lead ban.

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Alison Wheatley

Alison Wheatley

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