Monday, June 8, 2015

What You Need to Know about Lead Toxicosis, The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 S.405 and Our American Bald Eagle

Lead is a heavy metal that has no physiologic benefit in any living system. When ingested, it is absorbed from the stomach and is distributed by red blood cells to the soft tissues, causing damage to the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system and kidneys.  Lead causes anemia (lack of red blood cells) by increasing the fragility and premature destruction of red blood cells.  It also suppresses bone marrow.
 Dr. Laura L Wade DVM Dipl ABVP working on a bald eagle that had lead toxicosis and was subsequently hit by a car because of the resulting neurological effects. This eagle was saved with chelation therapy and currently resides at the Buffalo Zoo (photo: Dawn Trainor Griffard)

Signs of lead toxicosis can include lethargy (lack of energy), loss of appetite, regurgitation, green and/or bloody diarrhea, seizures and sudden death.  In order to treat lead toxicosis, it must be diagnosed early and treated aggressively.  Treatment consists of removing or chelating the lead from the system with injectable CaEDTA, oral Dpenicillamine, oral DMSA or oral dimercaprol. 

The body attempts to store lesser amounts of lead in the bone, where it is most often inactive.  However it can become active again in laying hens, as they use more calcium to create their eggs and therefore may pull more calcium from the bones – disturbing the stored lead in the process.

Treatment of lead toxicosis is costly and time-consuming and is most often performed by veterinarians and rehabilitators on wild animals such as waterfowl and bald eagles, which do not have families to pay their bills like pet birds do.  Therefore, it falls to the responsibility of conservation groups, participating veterinarians and sanctuaries to save the lives of these poor animals.  These animals must stay in treatment until it is clear that they once again have a fighting chance back in the wild.  This can often take several weeks to months of care.

Over the past 25 years, an average of 21-25 percent of sick or injured eagles treated at wildlife hospitals were found to have toxic levels of lead in their blood.  Bald Eagles frequently scavenge the carcasses of deer, pheasants and other wildlife that may harbor lead or lead fragments.  They also hunt live prey such as waterfowl that have been impaired by lead ingestion.  Lead is present in these prey items because they have been shot by hunters who use lead ammunition, or they have swallowed fishing equipment such as lead sinkers.

Lead ammunition also poses health risks to human beings.  Lead bullets explode into minute fragments when they hit their target.  These fragments can spread throughout the meat that humans eventually eat.  Studies using radiographs have shown that dust sized particles can infect meat up to a foot and a half away from the bullet wound.  A recent study has found that up to 87 percent of cooked game killed by lead ammunition can contain unsafe levels of lead.

In October 2012, a position statement issued by the Association of Avian Veterinarians stated that AAV “recognizes that lead is a potent toxin to wild birds that can have individual-and-population-level effects.  Therefore, the AAV advocates the replacement of lead-based sporting ammunition and fishing tackle with non-lead-based alternatives.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s Policy Statement on Conservation of Wild Animals states that the organization is concerned about the possible extinction of many animal species.  The AVMA should collaborate with naturalists, conservation groups, appropriate governmental agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and international bodies to establish and maintain effective actions for the conservation of wild animals in their native habitats.  These AVMA policies provide support for the elimination of lead ammunition use.  For these reasons, we join with our veterinary colleagues in supporting a commonsense primary prevention policy requiring that lead ammunition be replaced with non-lead ammunition.  This policy helps protect all wildlife species, and also domestic and companion animals.
Researchers examined 58 dead bald eagles and identified lead exposure as a significant mortality factor/USFWS.  (from April 2014 US Fish & Wildlife of the Midwest “Inside Region 3”)

In 1991, the federal government banned the use of lead in waterfowl hunting.  Non-toxic bullets cost only 10-20 percent more for most guns.  Despite the ban, Duck Stamp purchases increased by 30% between 1991 and 2009, even with a 20% increase in the cost of each stamp.   As the production of lead-free ammunition ramps up, costs could drop significantly.

Anthony Prieto, a hunter and co-founder of “Project Gutpile” (a hunter’s group that provides educational resources for lead-free hunters and anglers) says, "As a hunter in California, compliance with the recent state non-lead ammunition regulation has been simple.  I still get to hunt, there is no toxic impact on wildlife or my health, and copper bullets shoot better."

“The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Bill of 2015” is the re-introduction of a bill that was originally introduced and dismissed in 2012.  This bill will try to stop the no-lead ammunition laws being passed and introduced.  Those who authored the bill hope that the average “rank and file” hunters in the United States will believe that their rights as hunters are being challenged.  Those reintroducing this bill believe these “rank and file hunters” will fight for this bill to be passed.  However, none of their current hunting freedoms are being challenged, and they will gain nothing from this legislation.

What this legislation will do (if passed) is legalize the import of threatened species which are shot abroad and stop the regulation of toxic ammunition.  The bill could also create the presumption that federal lands specifically designated as wilderness areas must be opened to trophy hunting and commercial trapping, regardless of the impacts on the environment, wildlife or other land users (hikers, families, campers, photographers etc.)

The ammunition section of the bill states, “Firearms, ammunition and sport fishing equipment and its components (such as lead sinkers) are exempted from regulations of chemical substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act.”  This section of the legislation – if passed - will make any previous protective laws against lead ammunition exempt and allow the use of all lead ammunitions completely legal for any use in any state.

Please help protect our wildlife. Call your Senators today and urge them to oppose the Bi-Partisan Sportsmens Act of 2015-S.405.   Congress needs to know that the majority of Americans want to keep critical protections for wildlife and wild lands – including our bald eagles - in place.

Submitted by Dawn Griffard, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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