Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s First Move: Put the lead back

Yum, lead.

In a nation hypersensitive about bugs in food, yesterday’s action on the part of new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would have you think America’s hunters aren’t bothered by a little lead in their goose* or venison. Yesterday, on his first day on the job, Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3346, rescinding the Obama Administration’s ban on lead ammunition and tackle on federal land.

While sportsman’s groups may deny the risk of lead poisoning in hunted game, Scientific American reported in 2009 that lead in the blood of those eating wild game was 50 percent higher than that of people who did not. While the levels of lead accumulation may not have exceeded U.S. safety standards for adults, they were high enough to alarm health officials about the potential impacts to children and pregnant women, and both North Dakota and Minnesota stopped distributing donated wild game to food banks. The American Journal of Medicine blog notes, “while it has been suggested that the tissue from around the wound channel can be discarded to reduce lead exposure, there are an average of 356 metal fragments in a deer carcass after being shot with a lead projectile from a rifle. This is an impossible number of fragments to pick out by hand, especially because some of these fragments are microscopic.”

Of course, the issues are ecological as well. Lead radiates throughout the food chain, concentrating in species higher up (humans, at the top of the food chain, may want to take note). For example, the California condor’s recovery remains fraught while fragments of lead ammunition are scattered in the environment, likely a factor in the state’s phasing out of lead ammunition.

Zinke cited the need for better consultation with stakeholders—presumably those opposed to the ban—in the Secretarial Order. But he might also consider that scientists, public health doctors and administrators, and wildlife researchers—all of whom potentially influenced the development of the ban—are stakeholders as well.

Featured photo: Deer hunt in Luckenbach, Texas, by M&R Glasgow on Flickr. Creative Commons license.

Second photo: Modelled scatter of ammunition fragments in a cavity. Source: Gremse F, Krone O, Thamm M, Kiessling F, Tolba RH, Rieger S, et al. (2014) Performance of Lead-Free versus Lead-Based Hunting Ammunition in Ballistic Soap. PLoS ONE 9(7): e102015. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102015

*A 1991 ban on lead in bird shot remains. However, geese, condor and other birds ingest lead introduced in fishing tackle and prey.

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