Bookmark and Share

More press releases

For Immediate Release, February 22, 2012

Contact:  Jeff Miller, (415) 669-7357

EPA Refuses to Address Deadly Wildlife Toll of Toxic Lead Fishing Gear

WASHINGTON— Ignoring long-established science on the hazards of lead poisoning in the wild, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today again denied a formal petition to regulate toxic lead fishing sinkers that frequently kill loons, swans, cranes, ducks, geese and other wildlife. Water birds can ingest lead fishing sinkers lost or discarded in lakes and rivers and along shorelines, mistaking them for food or grit, and thousands are needlessly poisoned each year.

“It’s disappointing not to have national leadership in eliminating toxic lead from the wild, but we’ll continue our fight. Lead poisoning is a preventable epidemic in the wild and it’s inevitable that all toxic lead products will be discontinued,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The EPA acknowledges the overwhelming scientific knowledge about harm to wild birds from lead fishing weights and the increasingly available safe alternatives to lead fishing tackle, but it is allowing lead poisoning of swans, loons and other wildlife to continue.”

Conservation, hunting and fishing, and veterinary groups filed petitions in 2010 and 2011 seeking federal regulation of lead fishing tackle as a toxic substance, but the EPA refuses to act, deferring to localized state regulations and voluntary programs. Roughly 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals die annually from lead poisoning in the United States, mostly from ingesting lead ammunition fragments but also from lead sinkers.

The latest petition asking for regulation of lead sinkers under the Toxic Substance Control Act was filed in November 2011 by the Center for Biological Diversity, Loon Lake Loon Association and Project Gutpile, a hunter- and angler-based organization that educates about the hazards of lead. The EPA published its denial of the petition today in the Federal Register. The agency claims that increasing state and local efforts, which consist primarily of extremely localized regulations or angler education, are sufficient.

“The EPA is sending a disturbing message that preventable lead poisoning of wildlife is fine as long as states have programs on their books that promote, but not ensure, the use of alternatives to toxic lead fishing tackle,” said Miller. “Getting rid of toxic lead is a campaign that responsible anglers and hunters support, since alternatives safer for wildlife and human health exist.”

Lead is an extremely toxic substance that is dangerous to people and wildlife even at low levels. Exposure can cause a range of negative health effects, from acute poisoning and death to long-term problems such as reduced reproduction, inhibition of growth and damage to neurological development. Wildlife is poisoned by picking up and eating spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights, mistaking them for food or grit, or when animals scavenge on hunter-killed carcasses contaminated with lead-bullet fragments. Animals can die a painful death from lead poisoning or suffer for years from its debilitating effects.

The EPA asserts that wildlife exposure to lead fishing tackle is only a regional or local problem, but its effects in many areas of the country are not studied, there are no comprehensive surveys of the fate and exposure risk for spent lead, and everywhere the issue has been studied, lead exposure to wildlife from fishing tackle and ammunition is significant for numerous species of wildlife.

In today’s decision, the EPA curiously cites the increasing prevalence of non-lead alternatives for fishing tackle in the marketplace as a reason not to regulate, when in fact the availability and performance of non-toxic alternatives is one of the factors for regulating under the Toxic Substance Control Act. The EPA also stated that the “burden to society” from potential regulations outweighs the risk of health or environmental injury from toxic lead, leading the agency to determine there is no unreasonable risk to health or the environment for toxic lead sinkers. A final argument made by EPA is that populations of loons, which are frequent victims of lead poisoning from fishing weights, are stable or increasing in most of the northern states where lead tackle ingestion by loons has been documented. Yet the Toxic Substance Control Act does not require population-level effects to trigger regulation. If that were the case, lead in gasoline would never have been regulated, because there is no demonstrable population level effect on the human population from lead poisoning.

More than 120 organizations in 30 states — representing birders, conservationists, hunters, scientists, veterinarians, American Indians and public employees — are requesting a federal ban on lead ammunition and fishing tackle. The EPA in 2010 denied a similar petition to transition to non-lead ammunition for hunting and shooting sports. Major efforts to reduce lead in the environment have resulted in regulation of lead in paint, gasoline, plumbing, toys, candy and other products under the Toxic Substance Control Act. Spent lead from hunting and fishing remains a major unregulated source of lead exposure and a widespread killer of wildlife.

For more information, read about the Center’s Get the Lead Out campaign.

Go back