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    How Bad Is Lead? - Desert Rat - The Premier Hunting and Fishing Blog of the Southwest!

    How Bad Is Lead?

    Boy, I dunno - the planets are aligning. Regardless of what these studies find, I can see lead bullets and shot being gone altogether, in a few short years. How many people have been eating lead-shot game meat for years, with no obvious ill-effects?

    TERRY DWELLE, Bismarck, N.D.,
    The Jamestown Sun
    May 14, 2008

    Beginning May 16, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Dakota Department of Health will conduct a study measuring the risk, if any, of consuming wild game harvested with lead bullets. I appreciate this opportunity to explain the reasons for the study and what we hope to learn as a result.

    Earlier this year, a local doctor contacted the Department of Health about the discovery of metal fragments in ground venison donated for food pantries across the state. Laboratory testing identified the metal as lead. Because of the seriousness of lead poisoning, especially for children and pregnant women, the departments of Health, Agriculture, and Game and Fish advised food pantries across the state not to distribute or use the donated ground venison. The agencies also suggested that anyone who had concerns about how their venison was cleaned and processed should not serve it to children and may decide whether to eat it themselves. A few weeks later, Minnesota issued a similar advisory based on testing conducted in that state.

    Basically, the steps that were taken are similar to precautions taken when any food product is found to be contaminated. According to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, if these lead fragments had been found in beef, the meat would have been recalled.

    The particles of lead discovered in the ground venison were not distributed evenly throughout the meat. In addition, many of the lead particles were so small that a person biting into the meat wouldn’t notice the metal. However, even microscopic amounts of lead can cause health problems. That’s why our most prudent option was to advise disposal of the meat.

    Although there is no safe level of lead in blood, the risks are greater for young children and pregnant women. In young children, lead in the blood can cause lower IQs, learning disabilities, stunted growth, kidney damage and even death. In pregnant women, high lead exposure can cause low birth-weight babies, miscarriage and stillbirth. In adults, lead exposure can cause high blood pressure, hearing loss and infertility. In general, children are at higher risk because they absorb more lead than adults do and their developing brain is easily damaged by the lead.

    Most of the time, however, the effects are subtle and can’t be easily recognized, and most people with elevated levels of lead in their blood probably don’t realize it. Lower IQ, high blood pressure and hearing loss may be blamed on other factors without consideration of lead exposure as a contributing factor.

    Scientific studies can tell us how much lead is absorbed from sources such as paint or lead dust. What is still unclear is how much of the type of lead discovered in the venison is absorbed by the human body.

    As I mentioned earlier, the CDC and the Department of Health will conduct a study at several sites across North Dakota beginning May 16 that will attempt to determine whether eating wild game harvested with lead bullets results in increased blood lead levels. The study will test the blood lead levels of 680 people of all ages and will compare blood lead levels of people who eat venison with the lead levels of those who don’t. Analysis of the blood samples and the data collected will take several months; however, we anticipate that preliminary results will be available before the fall hunting season.

    Because this study will be an important opportunity to help us understand any potential health effects of swallowing lead bullet fragments, I encourage both hunters and non-hunters alike to participate. Testing sites and schedules are available on the Department of Health Web site at www.ndhealth.gov or by calling 701-328-2372.

    Lead exposure is a serious issue. We are hopeful that this study will help us learn if there are any risks for people who eat wild game killed with lead bullets. We are committed to keeping you, the public, informed about whatever we discover.


    Associated Press Writer
    BOISE, Idaho —

    An Idaho raptor group working to eliminate lead from ammunition released findings Tuesday it said shows that ground venison from 80 percent of deer killed with high-velocity lead bullets contains metal fragments.

    The Peregrine Fund, based in Boise, and researchers from Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., say it is further evidence people who eat meat from game animals shot with lead bullets risk exposure to the toxic metal.

    Separately, the North Dakota Health Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are planning a study on nearly 700 people who eat meat from wild game harvested with lead bullets, to determine health risks, if any.

    The suggestion that lead bullets could make venison unsafe for humans has prompted outrage from pro-hunting groups such as Safari Club International, of Somerset, N.J., and the Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry group, after North Dakota and Minnesota in March and April instructed food banks there to pull hunter-donated venison from their shelves.

    “This is one more piece of evidence that points to lead bullets as a source of contamination in our environment,” Rick Watson, vice president of The Peregrine Fund, said in a statement ahead of a presentation of the study, which focused on 30 white-tailed deer killed by standard, lead-core, copper-jacketed bullets fired from a high-powered rifle.

    The Peregrine Fund organized the four-day conference at Boise State University to bolster its stand against lead ammunition, with more than 50 scientific presentations on lead poisoning in wildlife and humans, including research on Inuits in Alaska and Russia who practice subsistence hunting.

    The study released Tuesday comes after a Peregrine Fund board member, Dr. William Cornatzer, previously did CT scans of about 100 packets of venison that had been donated to food banks by hunters. He found 60 percent had multiple lead fragments.

    Lawrence Keane, a National Shooting Sports Foundation spokesman, said he hasn’t seen the latest study.

    But he said initial evidence supplied by Cornatzer, a dermatologist and professor at the University of North Dakota medical school, didn’t justify a policy change or destruction of venison. Groups, including Safari Club, gave nearly 1 million pounds of venison in 2007 to food banks as part of their humanitarian efforts.

    “The Peregrine Fund is an advocacy group and has an agenda,” said Keane. “We have serious questions with the so-called science by the dermatologist. It’s my understanding there’s not a single reported case that the CDC is aware of, of anyone having elevated blood lead levels from eating game harvested with lead ammunition.”

    Lead poisoning has been linked to learning disabilities, behavioral problems and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and death. There is no safe level of lead in blood.

    North Dakota Department of Health epidemiologists said the agency’s planned study with the CDC will investigate whether there are any health risks for people, by attempting to determine whether eating wild game harvested with lead bullets results in increased blood lead levels.

    “This study is an important opportunity to help us understand whether swallowing lead bullet fragments causes increased levels of lead in the blood,” said state Health Officer Terry Dwelle. “We’re hopeful that the study will give us information on which we can base any future recommendations.”

    In the study findings released Tuesday, authors, including Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine professor Russell Tucker, found widespread dispersal of metal fragments after taking X-rays of 30 deer shot in Wyoming and processed at 30 different butchers in that state.

    Ground venison from 80 percent of the deer had metal fragments, and 92 percent of those were lead. In addition, metal fragments were found in some steaks, even though processors normally discard meat near the wound and along the bullet’s path.

    The Peregrine Fund got its start in 1970 with peregrine falcon recovery efforts and now works to restore California condors to northern Arizona’s Grand Canyon region. Watson said the group began suspecting a connection between lead poisoning, bullets, venison and humans after researchers and the Arizona Game and Fish Department discovered about 90 percent of 60 condors that now soar over the Grand Canyon and southern Utah were ailing from lead poisoning after eating hunter-killed deer and leftover gut piles.

    California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year signed a law banning lead bullets from condor habitat in his state, and Arizona wildlife managers have a voluntary program encouraging hunters to replace lead bullets with nontoxic copper ammunition. Condor deaths in Arizona dropped from five after the 2006 hunting season to none in 2007.

    “We believe that copper bullets will become the ammunition of choice for hunters to benefit themselves, their families, and wildlife,” Watson said.



    BOISE, Idaho — The potential risk of lead poisoning from high-velocity bullets, whether to carrion-eating condors in the Grand Canyon or to food bank patrons in the Midwest, is the subject of a scientific conference next week.

    The issue has been heightened since North Dakota and Minnesota officials instructed food bank operators to clear their shelves of venison donated by hunters this year.

    The move raised complaints from Safari Club International of Somerset, N.J., whose members gave about 316,000 pounds of venison to the needy last year under the group’s Sportsmen Against Hunger program, and Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry of Williamsport, Md., which donates more than 282,000 pounds of venison in 27 states annually.

    The four-day gathering that begins Monday at Boise State University includes more than 50 presentations on issues ranging from lead poisoning among subsistence hunting Inuits in Alaska and Russia, lead levels in ravens in southern Yellowstone National Park, lead found in swans in Western Washington state and the politics of nontoxic ammunition.

    “You’re collecting a huge weight of evidence to infer or perhaps even prove there’s a serious health risk, certainly to wildlife, but perhaps even to humans,” said Rick Watson, vice president of The Peregrine Fund in Boise, a raptor recovery center that is sponsoring the conference.

    “That should promote if not actual remediation of the problem, then further research on where there are gaps in that knowledge,” Watson said Friday.

    Lead poisoning has been linked to learning disabilities, behavioral problems and, at very high levels, seizures, coma, and death.

    Watson said his group realized there might be a connection between lead poisoning, bullets, venison and humans after 1996, the year it began reintroducing rare California condors in northern Arizona. As many as 60 now soar over the Grand Canyon and southern Utah, but researchers and the Arizona Game and Fish Department found the scavengers were ailing from lead poisoning after eating hunter-killed deer and leftover gut piles.

    In 2006, five condors died of lead poisoning and 90 percent of the rest had signs of exposure.

    To learn more, Peregrine Fund researchers killed two deer with high-velocity lead ammunition and found that the bullets fragmented on impact, leaving the animals’ flesh riddled with hundreds of microscopic lead particles.

    “In the process of doing that study, we didn’t want to waste the deer meat we had shot, so we had it processed,” Watson said. “We thought, ‘For interest’s sake, let’s take a look at some of these package to see if there was any lead’ - and there was.”

    Skeptical, Dr. William Cornatzer of Bismarck, N.D., a physician, hunter and Peregrine Fund board member, used a CT scan to examine about 100 packets of venison from local food giveaway programs and found 60 percent had multiple lead fragments.

    “There isn’t much to argue,” Cornatzer said. “It shows there is this toxic metal in our ground venison that we hunters have been eating for the last 50 years.”

    While no cases of lead poisoning from venison had been reported, his research helped lead to the warning to food banks in North Dakota in March. Days later, Minnesota followed suit after separate tests in that state.

    Safari Club officials have contend there is no scientific basis for abandoning thousands of pounds of meat that otherwise would go to poor families at a time of rapidly escalating food costs.

    Gene Rurka, chairman of the group’s humanitarian efforts, said dumping venison on the basis of a few anecdotal studies was premature.

    “I just can’t imagine there’s that kind of lead intrusion in the meat,” Rurka said. “If it’s a health issue, certainly, it’s a concern, but to go out and say there’s one guy who took a sampling of meat, and to use that across the entire program, it is totally unfair.”

    Watson said such skepticism is a key reason for the conference.

    Among other reports, his group plans to release preliminary findings of a continuing study of packaged venison from 30 deer killed by researchers with high-velocity ammo and processed by 30 butchers in Wyoming. Watson, one of the authors, said the findings so far mirror the conclusions in North Dakota and Minnesota.

    “We’ve effectively demonstrated that lead does get into venison, both hamburger and steaks,” he said. “It’s at levels sufficently high enough to be a concern to people who get those packets. We don’t know what risk, but we know they are at some risk.”

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    One Response to “How Bad Is Lead?”

    1. Ron Kearns. Says:


      I think lead poisoning was a likely contributing factor to the decline of the Roman Empire. We humans ignore recent and ancient history with non-reflective *president bush-like* idiocy.

      “Vitruvius, who wrote during the time of Augustus, indicates that the Romans knew of the danger of lead pipes and, consequently, that terracotta was preferred.”

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