Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lead and Bullets

I've spent a considerable amount of my career focused on environmental pollution, particularly lead in cities.  Lead is a very common pollutant that was emitted in the past from gasoline emissions and it was also used as an additive in paint.  However, on occasion, contamination is found associated with the use of lead bullets.
Me with a deer I shot hunting in the 1970's on
our family tree farm in Marinette County,
Wisconsin.  I probably shot the deer with
bullets made by someone in my family.

Lead is a very good metal to use for bullets--particularly hand-made bullets.  It melts at relatively low temperatures and it is easy to set up a small workshop in your home to make them.  Indeed, when I was a kid, many in my family made bullets for hunting or target practice.

But, over the years, we have learned that lead bullets are very problematic in the environment.  They are often used in wetland areas where birds or other animals can ingest them.  Birds are particularly susceptible because they eat grit for grinding food in their complex digestive systems.  Unfortunately, lead is a poison and it can lead to slow death.  We start seeing problems with exposure to lead in humans at exposure of only 400 parts per million in soil.  

The environmental problems of the use of lead in bullets have been well documented.  They range from clear poisoning of endangered species like the California Condor to lead poisoning of humans who digest bullet fragments in game they have hunted.  As a result, many are trying to ban or limit the use of lead in bullets.  The bullets account for the second highest use of unregulated lead in the U.S.

Grist has an article about the issue here highlighting the role of the NRA in fighting the lead bullet ban.  I am not 100% sure why the NRA is taking this stand.  Over the years, many hunting organizations have stood up for environmental regulations in order to support the long-term sustainability of hunting.  Indeed, it was duck hunters who pushed for environmental protection of wetlands.  Aldo Leopold and many other important environmentalists were hunters and understood the importance of environmental protection and preservation.  If the NRA were on the side of the preservation of the hunting lifestyle, I think they would be working to support the ban on lead while finding a suitable lead replacement to allow for the continued home manufacture of bullets.  

Note:  After I wrote the above paragraph, I did a search for lead-free bullet options for home manufacture.  I found tons.  

In other words, I don't think this issue is black and white.  There is no reason why this should be turned into an anti-gun or anti-hunting issue.  It's an anti-poison issue.

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