As HuntForTruth.org has previously reported, there is a considerable and critical distinction between the potential dangers from exposure to metallic lead used in ammunition, and exposure to other more soluble types of lead, such as lead found in legacy leaded paint and gasoline. Lead ammunition, i.e., metallic lead, is an unlikely cause of lead toxicity in condors because the metallic lead used in bullets and shot is not the same toxic lead compound that lead ammunition ban proponents refer to when trying to justify the proposed lead ammunition ban (i.e. leaded gasoline
, and paint).
Studies have shown that metallic lead is relatively insoluble in the digestive tract of organisms such as birds of prey and other scavengers, and does not possess the same soluble properties as industrial lead compounds that break down when exposed to stomach acid and are then absorbed into the bloodstream. The more insoluble lead is, the less bioavailable it becomes and get absorbed into an organism. Thus, if it’s not bioavailable, it doesn’t make its way into the bloodstream, but is passed through the bird’s natural digestive tract instead. In fact, scientific studies have confirmed that it is very difficult to poison some birds with lead ammunition, even by repeatedly feeding them unnaturally with lots of lead shot mixed with food over an extended period of time.
On the other hand, industrial lead compounds found in legacy paint, gasoline, pesticides and microtrash are quite soluble in the digestive tract and are responsible for many of the highly publicized lead poisonings attributed to lead ammunition. These lead compound sources are common in the environment, and should be investigated first in the alleged cases of lead poisoning of wildlife.
Researchers supporting the lead ammunition ban, however, typically ignore the critical distinction between metallic lead and more soluble lead compounds, while downplaying “alternative sources” of lead in the environmental, because the existence of such sources undermines the “Get the Lead Out” campaign promoted by AB 711 proponents.
Further complicating the debate is the fact that other metals that might be used in alternative ammunition create their own environmental consequences. Alternative ammunition containing bismuth, tungsten or copper coated steel all present environmental concerns. Bismuth leaches into the soil and groundwater and interferes with soil bacteria. Tungsten, which is transformed to a soluble form by oxygen, accumulates in the spleen of wildlife and can cause immune system disorders. Even copper is toxic under certain circumstances, and can do far more environmental damage than metallic lead. Steel shot does not perform as well as lead on game, leading to higher numbers of crippled game that escape and die in the field, and can cause injuries to humans from ricochets. All arguments considered, traditional ammunition containing lead is still the best, and safest, alternative.
The distinction between metallic and industrial lead is an important factor concerning the lead ammunition ban debate, which has often been neglected as the political rhetoric surrounding AB 711 has increased. AB 711 proponents have articulated the dangers of the more pervasive industrial lead compounds previously used in paints, gasoline & pesticides but have failed to address the distinctions between these lead compounds and the less soluble, less bioavailable and less toxic nature of metallic lead used in lead ammunition.
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