Lead Bullets Can Harm in More Ways Than One | Office for Science and  Society - McGill UniversityHuman exposure to lead in the United States has dramatically decreased as lead has
been phased out or reduced in gasoline, plumbing, paint and toys. Public health
agencies regulate lead in industrial activities and consumer products, and have to
varying degrees begun to address lead exposure at shooting ranges. Little attention has
been focused on hunting or fishing activities that may cause harmful lead exposure.
Lead has long been the primary metal used for ammunition because of its mass and
malleability, but lead is an extraordinarily toxic element. The chemical properties of lead
and its harmful effects on humans have been known for nearly 2000 years

Recent research shows that lead is toxic at very low levels once thought harmless, and
at levels well below the Center for Disease Control benchmark (blood lead level of 10
micrograms per deciliter) for intervention in children and what guns groups and the
ammunition industry incorrectly refer to as a “safety limit”

When lead is ingested it attacks organs and many different body systems. Lead
poisoning can damage the brain, central nervous system and reproductive system, and
cause kidney disease, cancer, high blood pressure, anemia, impotence, birth defects,
miscarriage, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, and a host of other
health disorders. In large enough doses, lead can cause brain damage leading to
seizures, coma and death. Even very low levels of lead exposure can decrease IQ and
cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children or increase the probability
of dying from a heart attack or stroke in adults

Lead is especially dangerous to fetuses and young children, for whom poisoning is even
more pronounced because lead is absorbed faster and disrupts development, causing
slow growth, development defects, and damage to the brain and nervous system. Some studies link elevated bone or blood lead levels with aggression,
delinquent behavior, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and criminal behavior. The consensus among
medical researchers is that there is no safe level of lead exposure in young children.

Hunters who use lead bullets or shot, and their families, are at risk of lead poisoning in
several ways: ingesting lead shot pellets or lead bullet fragments or residues in game
meat, ingesting lead residue from handling lead bullets, or inhaling airborne lead during
ammunition reloading or at shooting ranges

Elevated blood lead levels and resulting health effects and disease have been well
documented for people who frequent or work at indoor and outdoor firing ranges. Hunters who reload rifle and pistol ammunition or cast their own lead bullets are at
particular risk of harmful lead exposure.

Unsurprisingly, many studies show harmful levels of lead exposure and elevated blood
lead levels in subsistence hunters who regularly eat game meat harvested with lead
ammunition and significantly higher lead
exposure in people from hunting communities.

An increasing number of studies are directly measuring high lead concentrations in
game meat – from visible lead particles and fragments to very fine dust and residues only
visible by radiograph – in waterfowl, squirrels, deer, pigs, game birds and elk killed by
lead shotgun pellets or lead bullets. The meat of game birds
killed with lead shot can have high lead levels even after lead pellets are removed and
the birds are cooked. Lead bullets tend to shatter into fragments upon
impact with bone, leaving shards and imperceptible dust-sized particles of lead. This
lead can infect game meat up to a foot and a half away from a bullet wound when fired
from a high-powered rifle, and even lead shot can leave particles, dust and residues in
game meat. Copper bullets leave no lead and rarely fragment.

The Center for Disease Control found that those consuming wild game in North Dakota
have 50% more lead in their bloodstream than non-game-eaters. Several
scientific studies have shown that venison packets donated by hunters to feed the
hungry, processed from deer shot with lead ammunition, are contaminated with toxic
lead. . Taking game to a processor
is not a solution: research shows that in a majority of cases, one or more consumers of a
hunter-killed, commercially-processed deer will consume toxic lead derived from bullets. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture found lead bullet fragments in
26% to 60% of ground venison packages from commercial processors. Based
on these studies, state health and wildlife agencies recommend that women and children do not eat any game
harvested with lead ammunition. Food banks and shelters have had to pull lead-tainted
venison meat from their shelves. More than 2.5 million pounds of game meat
(approximately 10 million meals), most of it shot with lead ammunition, is donated
annually in the United States and four Canadian provinces.

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