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October 9, 2008

The truth about lead ammunition

The “issue” of whether or not it’s safe and responsible to hunt with traditional ammunition (lead ammunition) has surfaced again in recent years.  Claims have been made that hunting with lead is killing scavengers (feasting on gut piles) and endangering those who eat the game.  Despite the fact that these allegations have been spread by anti-hunting groups, there is nothing wrong with taking a deeper look into the issue of lead ammunition.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released the preliminary results of a study concerning fragmentation of lead bullets after impact.  The report showed varying results but did note that in some cases fragments traveled “further from the wound channel than many hunters might assume.” 

The information in the report is good to know. Of course hunters (and for that matter butchers and processors) benefit from understanding how far ammunition fragments can travel after impact.  However, just as important is the need for hunters (and others) to understand what “exposure” to these fragments really means in terms of health and wellness.

For more than a century, millions of Americans have safely consumed big game, including whitetail deer, harvested using traditional hunting ammunition and there has never been a case of anyone suffering adverse health effects from consuming the meat.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently conducting a study of hunters and others that have consumed game to determine whether they have an elevated level of lead in their blood that can be attributed to the ammunition used to harvest the game. Preliminary indications of the CDC study released last month by the North Dakota Department of Health (DOH), which is participating in the study, show that none of those tested had unsafe blood lead levels. In fact, according to the North Dakota DOH’s press release, the readings were far below the level considered elevated for a child (10 micrograms per deciliter); let alone the level for an adult (25 micrograms per deciliter).

Now consider that the Iowa Department of Public Health has conducted an extensive panel of blood-lead testing for more than 15 years. The IDPH has stated that “if lead in venison were a serious health risk, it would likely have surfaced within extensive blood lead testing since 1992 with 500,000 youth under 6 and 25,000 adults having been screened.”

Here’s what it comes down to: getting more information, based on sound science, is a good thing. Taking the word of individuals and organizations tied to anti-hunting groups; well, that’s not so good.

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