What is lead?
Lead is a heavy metal naturally found in several minerals around the world. It is soft, melts easily, has a high density and is cheap. For over three thousand years, human societies have used and crafted this metal inexpensively with relatively simple equipment. Lead has played an important role in industrial, scientific and military progress resulting in a wide range of products manufactured from lead. Some of those products include plumbing pipes, solder, paints, gasoline additives, batteries, ceramics, electronics, stained glass and recreational sporting goods.
Spent lead as a problem for wildlife
Fishing and hunting with lead-based items represent a large source for lead deposition in the environment. Extensive scientific research has demonstrated lead poisoning in a wide range of avian species after the ingestion of lead-based fishing gear (sinkers and jigs) and lead-based ammunition (shot and rifle bullet fragments).
Waterfowl and birds of prey represent a clear example. Waterfowl species ingest grit and pebbles to assist digestion of food. Lead sinkers and jigs lost in wetlands are often confused with grit. In the United States, 22 species of birds have been reported to ingest lead sinkers including common loons, swans, brown pelicans and geese.
Birds of prey or raptors become poisoned after ingesting lead-based ammunition present in tissues of prey items. The finding of lead shot as a source of poisoning in bald eagles and waterfowl led to a nationwide ban of lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991. However, The Raptor Center’s most current research shows that lead fragments present in the tissues of game animals shot with rifle bullets is another source of lead poisoning in these birds. Scientific research on other raptors around the world such as Germany, Japan and Spain support The Raptor Center’s findings.
Lead as a toxic material
Despite the utility of this metal, lead is toxic and its toxic effects have been reported for over two thousand years in both humans and animals. Unlike other natural elements, lead cannot be metabolized by any biological organism, therefore has the potential of causing a wide variety of health problems especially with ingestion or inhalation. As a result, the use of lead in many products such as paints, gasoline and solders has been banned or heavily restricted. However, this metal has still been widely used for recreational sporting goods items such as fishing gear and ammunition for shooting and hunting.
Alternatives to lead
Non-toxic fishing gear manufactured from other metals and metal alloys such as iron, steel, bismuth and tin are available. In addition, metals such as steel, solid copper and copper-tungsten alloys are used in the manufacture of non-toxic (non-lead) ammunition. These alternatives have shown properties that meet or exceed those of lead ammunition and can be found in most sporting goods retailers.
Using non-lead alternatives for outdoor recreation is a great way to conserve and preserving our wildlife and the environment.
“Poisoning in bald eagles: Analysis of possible lead sources a retrospective study. Ingestion of spent lead ammunition: Implications for humans and wildlife” by P.T. Redig L. Cruz-Martinez D.R. Smith. Lead 2008.
“Sources and implications of lead-based ammunition and fishing tackle to natural resources ” by B.A. Rattner J.C. Franson S.R. Sheffield C.I. Goddard N.J. Leonard P.J. Wingate. Wildlife Society Technical Review Bethesda Maryland: The Wildlife Society 2008.
“Bullet fragments in deer remains: Implications for lead exposure in avian scavengers ” by W.G. Hunt W. Burnham C.N. Parish K.K. Burnham B. Mutch J.L. Oaks. Wildlife Society Bulletin 2006;34(1):167-170.