Conference to Examine Effects of Lead Exposure from Bullets
31 March 2008The effects of exposure to lead from spent ammunition is the focus of a conference sponsored by The Peregrine Fund, a conservation organization, 12-15 May 2008, in Boise, Idaho. The conference, "Ingestion of Spent Lead Ammunition: Implications for Wildlife and Humans," will bring together biologists, scientists, health professionals and sporting groups to review scientific data on this topic.
The issue gained new urgency last week when health officials in North Dakota pulled hunter-donated venison from food pantries after the discovery of lead fragments in about 60 percent of the meat tested. As a result, state officials in Minnesota and Iowa took similar precautions. The meat had been donated by hunters to help feed the needy.
"We were sufficiently concerned about lead exposure from ammunition fragments in game meat to organize this conference," said Rick Watson, Vice President of The Peregrine Fund, which leads the condor recovery program in Arizona. "Condors are sickened and some die from this source of lead exposure. It seemed plausible they may be a warning of human exposure as well."
Condors are bred and hatched at the organization's World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise and released to the wild near the Grand Canyon. The huge birds are scavengers that can ingest the tiny fragments of lead bullets after feeding on carcasses and gut piles of deer killed by hunters.
In the fall 2007 hunting season, 80 percent of Arizona hunters helped reduce lead exposure in condors by voluntarily using copper bullets or not leaving gut piles in the field, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department. That's up from a 60 percent compliance rate in 2006. No condors died in 2007; four condors died of lead poisoning in 2006.
"A viable solution exists in the form of bullets made from solid copper," Watson said. "Copper bullets do not fragment like lead bullets do."
No amount of lead is considered safe in humans. Contamination is especially serious in pregnant woman and children because even tiny amounts can cause brain development and behavioral problems in children. Amounts formerly considered safe in adults recently have been found to increase rates of death from heart attack and stroke.
The Peregrine Fund currently is studying the amount of lead in venison from deer shot with high-velocity lead bullets, which fragment into hundreds of tiny pieces upon impact. Published research has shown that these fragments are deposited in the animal several inches away from the bullet's entry point. Preliminary results of the current study will be released at the conference in May. The final report will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The tests on venison that led to last week's action in North Dakota were conducted by Dr. William Cornatzer, an avid hunter and a member of The Peregrine Fund board. After hearing of the lead problem with condors, Cornatzer decided to see for himself how much lead may be contained in game meat. With the help of health officials, Cornatzer collected about 100 one-pound packages of ground venison from food pantries in December and ran CT scans on the meat.
"This isn't just a food pantry problem. This is a nationwide problem," Cornatzer told the Associated Press.
The North Dakota Health Department confirmed the presence of lead in its own tests. Cornatzer plans to present his findings at the conference in Boise in May.
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