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For Immediate Release, May 23, 2013

Contact:  Bill Snape, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 536-9351                                   
Dr. John Cornely, The Trumpeter Swan Society, (303) 910-9360

On Technical Grounds, Federal Court Dismisses Case to Stop Poisoning of Wildlife by Lead Ammo

Despite Millions of Bird Deaths, EPA and NRA Team Up to Oppose Regulation of Toxic Ammunition

WASHINGTON— Conservation groups faced off against the Environmental Protection Agency and National Rifle Association today during a federal court hearing over toxic lead hunting ammunition that kills millions of birds and other wildlife every year and threatens public health. The court hearing focused on a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies to get the EPA to regulate toxic lead ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The federal judge today dismissed the case on technical grounds but did not rule on the substance of the claim, namely whether EPA should regulate lead ammunition under the toxics law. Conservation groups are considering an appeal of today’s ruling.

“We’ll keep fighting to ensure that America’s wildlife are no longer needlessly killed by the millions by lead ammunition,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center. “Congress clearly gave the EPA authority to regulate the toxic lead in hunting ammunition, the same way we got lead out of gasoline, paint and kids’ toys. It was really disturbing today to see the country’s most important environmental agency on the same side as the NRA, opposing common-sense measures to protect people and wildlife from lead poisoning.”

“Americans don’t want swans, condors and other wildlife dying from preventable lead poisoning,” said Dr. John Cornely with The Trumpeter Swan Society. “With nonlead ammunition on the market for every hunting use, there’s no reason not to implement measures to save wildlife from poisoning and lessen the lead exposure risk to people, which will in no way restrict hunting. I am a long-time hunter and angler who uses only nontoxic shotgun shells and rifle cartridges and nontoxic fishing sinkers. Hunters and anglers started the wildlife conservation movement in this country and it’s appropriate for us to lead this effort.”

In 2012, 100 organizations formally petitioned the EPA to use the Toxic Substances Control Act to regulate the toxic components of hunting ammunition, including the spent lead bullets and shot projectiles that cause lead poisoning of wildlife. In all, 268 organizations from 40 states have asked the EPA to regulate lead in hunting ammunition, the biggest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States. A national poll released in March found that 57 percent of Americans support requiring the use of nontoxic bullets for hunting.

After the EPA refused to evaluate the petition, The Trumpeter Swan Society, Cascades Raptor Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Loon Lake Loon Association, Preserve Our Wildlife, Tennessee Ornithological Society and Western Nebraska Resources Council filed suit in 2012. The NRA, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Safari Club International and Association of Battery Recyclers intervened in the case, claiming the EPA does not have authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act to regulate lead ammunition.

“The NRA and gun groups continue to stake out positions that are out of step with the values of Americans and hunters, who care about wildlife and who don’t want to see birds needlessly and unintentionally poisoned,” Snape said.

After approving the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976, the U.S. House of Representatives stated in a report about the history and intent of the Act that it “does not exclude from regulation under the bill chemical components of ammunition which could be hazardous because of their chemical properties.” The EPA has already declared that lead is a toxic substance and taken steps to remove it from other products and uses.

Last month leading scientists, doctors and public-health experts from Harvard, Cornell, Rutgers and other universities released a statement that lead hunting ammunition poses a serious danger to people and wildlife and ought to be phased out. The California state legislature is currently considering a bill (A.B. 711) that would ban lead in hunting ammunition throughout the state.

Lead is an extremely toxic substance that is dangerous to people and wildlife even at low levels. Lead exposure can cause a range of health effects, from acute poisoning and death to long-term problems such as reduced reproduction, inhibition of growth, and damage to neurological development.

Millions of nontarget birds and other wildlife are poisoned each year from scavenging carcasses containing lead-bullet fragments or from ingesting spent lead-shot pellets, mistaking them for food or grit. Spent ammunition causes lead poisoning in 130 species of birds and animals. Nearly 500 scientific papers document the dangers to wildlife from this lead exposure. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calculates that despite the federal ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting, more than 14,000 tons of toxic lead shot is deposited in the environment each year in the United States by upland bird hunting alone.

Studies using radiographs show that lead ammunition leaves fragments and numerous imperceptible, dust-sized particles that contaminate game meat far from a bullet track, causing significant health risks to people eating wild game. Some state health agencies have had to recall venison donated to feed the hungry because of dangerous lead contamination from bullet fragments.

There are many alternatives to lead rifle bullets and shotgun pellets. More than a dozen manufacturers market hundreds of varieties and calibers of nonlead bullets and shot made of steel, copper and alloys of other metals, with satisfactory-to-superior ballistics. A recent study debunks claims that price and availability of nonlead ammunition could preclude switching to nontoxic rounds for hunting. In fact, researchers found no major difference in the retail price of equivalent lead-free and lead-core ammunition for most popular calibers.

Hunters in areas with restrictions on lead ammunition have transitioned to hunting with nontoxic bullets. For example, there has been no decrease in game tags or hunting activity since state requirements for nonlead hunting went into effect in significant portions of Southern California in 2008 to protect condors from lead poisoning.

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

Read a fact sheet on the EPA’s authority to regulate lead bullets under TSCA.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Trumpeter Swan Society is a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota, dedicated to assuring the vitality and welfare of wild trumpeter swan populations.

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