BACKGROUND BRIEF ON THE EFFECT OF LEAD AMMUNITION ON THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT AND HUMAN HEALTH
Why Lead is used for Shooting 3
The Law Regarding Lead 3
The Effect of Lead on Human health 4
Environmental Effects 6
Alternatives to Lead Ammunition 6
Shooting in the United Kingdom – Key Facts 9
Shooting is hugely important to the rural economy and of great benefit in terms of wildlife management and conservation. If lead ammunition is banned, or further restricted, it would have a profound effect on all forms of shooting in the United Kingdom.
Lead is a naturally occurring metal and is used extensively in a whole range of products, industrial processes and in lead ammunition used in shooting sports. There are already restrictions on the use of lead shot and any further restrictions could have potentially serious implications for the gun trade, the rural economy and the natural environment. Without lead many shooting disciplines could be substantially curtailed.
Those groups campaigning for further restrictions, or a total ban, on lead ammunition argue their case on the basis that lead shot poses a risk to the environment and to human health. Scaremongering about lead has become a useful way to attack the sport for those who are fundamentally opposed to shooting on other grounds.
There is little evidence which would suggest that the use of lead shot in the UK is a problem, either in terms of the environment or human health. Moreover, the alternatives to lead shot and their impact on human health and the environment have not been fully investigated. The debate about lead is more complex than those opposed to lead would suggest.
Lead should not even be considered for further restriction, let alone a ban, before there is peer-reviewed, UK-based evidence that lead is a problem, and it has been assessed against any potential alternatives. In April 2010, DEFRA formed a ‘Lead Ammunition Group’ of interested parties to review scientific research and advise Government. A subgroup is currently preparing a risk assessment, which should be published by the end of 2012.
Why Lead is used for Shooting
Lead has been used as the material of choice for ammunition due to properties that make it ideal for use in projectiles:
1. Its high density allows the momentum of the projectile to be retained. This allows the projectile to travel further and impart more energy when the projectile meets the target.
2. Lead’s soft structure allows it to deform when contacting a target. This causes the projectile to create more efficient and consistent kills when shooting live quarry. This is important in welfare terms
The most common sporting projectiles are split into two main categories:
1. Lead shot used in shotguns are small spheres of lead from around 1.8 mm to 9mm in diameter. Many individual pellets are loaded into a single cartridge.
2. Lead bullets are single projectiles, usually fired from rifles, and commonly shaped to give an aerodynamic form. Bullets used in higher velocity rifles are covered on a copper alloy “jacket” to prevent damage to the bullet when travelling through the bore.
The Law Regarding Lead – AFRICAN-EURASIAN WATERBIRD AGREEMENT
Due to the unique way that certain waterbirds feed, some species are susceptible to ingesting lead if it is deposited in their feeding area. This was highlighted as a source of poisoning for some wildfowl species, including several migratory birds.
To address this, the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) aimed to reduce the amount of lead ammunition used in wetland areas where such wildfowl feed. The feeding habits of non-wetland birds are very different, and are not affected by lead in silt layers of wetlands. There is little relevant evidence to show that the use of lead shot outside wetlands has any environmental impact.
The UK, in order to comply with the AEWA, has prohibited the use of ammunition containing lead for the killing of certain species or specific areas as follows:
England and Wales
• In England and Wales, the use of lead shot is prohibited below the High Water Mark of Ordinary Spring Tides, over specified SSSIs, and for the shooting of the following species, regardless of where they occur:
• Duck (Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal, Pochard, Pintail, Tufted duck, Goldeneye), Geese (Greylag, Pink-footed, White-fronted, Canada), Waders (Golden Plover), Coot and Moorhen.
Scotland and Northern Ireland
• In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the use of lead shot is prohibited over wetlands. Wetlands are defined as any areas of foreshore, marsh, fen, peatland with standing water, regularly or seasonally flooded fields, and other water sources whether they are natural or man-made, static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt.
The Effect of Lead on Human health
Lead is a toxic element. However, all metals are potentially toxic, yet many metals are essential for life in small quantities. Indeed, most things can be toxic in sufficient quantity, or sufficient concentration. What is important is not that a metal is defined as toxic but the level at which it becomes a toxin i.e. harmful. Lead occurs naturally in various environments and at a variety of concentrations. Other metals which are also considered toxic include aluminium and silver, which like lead, also occur naturally.
Game meat is enjoyed by many people across the country as a lean and flavorsome alternative to other meats. Anti-lead campaigners claim that eating game shot with lead could result in lead poisoning. However, after centuries of game consumption we are not aware of any cases of lead poising resulting from the ordinary consumption of game.
Although game meat does contain residual amounts of lead, the contribution of lead in the average diet was found by the European Food Standards Authority to be highest, by a large margin, in potatoes and grains. Game meat was found to make a very small contribution to overall lead in the diet, behind almost all other common foodstuffs. (See chart below, EFSA Journal, p.53.)
EFSA list of food which cause most lead exposure to adults: The following food stuff all contain more lead than game meat, which was not included in the chart.
In October 2012 the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued advice to frequent consumers of small game meat, such as pheasant and partridge, specifically those consuming over 100 birds a year. This advice only applies to a very small minority of people, given the consumption pattern of game meat in the UK and does not apply to large game meat such as venison.
In giving this advice small game has simply been added to a list of foods, such as oily fish and tuna, which the FSA suggests should not be eaten more than twice a week. It also joins the myriad of foods that women are advised to avoid during pregnancy.
It should be noted that excessive consumption of any one food stuff can have serious health implications, be it salt, red meat or alcohol. According to the NHS, eating too much fat can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Similarly, too much salt can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The effects of drinking too much alcohol are also well know and documented.
Using the same data from the EFSA (chart above) which provided the bulk of the evidence for the FSA report, eating the daily suggested minimum of five fruits and vegetables and one litre of tap water provides enough dietary lead to exceed the threshold for young children by a factor of two. This assumes that no other foods are eaten. Other foods, including chocolate and mushrooms, have a very high level of lead. Some chocolate levels being, weight for weight, higher than pheasant.
Research by the Swedish National Food Administration, showed that you would need to eat 80kg of the most contaminated moose venison in a year to reach a lead uptake in your body, which equates to drinking, or using in cooking, 2 litres of tap water every day for a year (Holmgren C, Jakt & Jagare 2012).
Data from the NHS Hospital Episode Statistics illustrates the very low number of lead poisoning cases when compared to poisoning caused by other toxic substances.
• Between 1998 and 2011, 19.6 people a year on average are admitted for treatment for the toxic effects of lead.
• In comparison, 125 a year on average are admitted for the toxic effect of soap and detergent, 982 for the toxic effect of ethanol, 69 for the toxic effect of ingested mushrooms and 40 for the toxic effect of snake venom.
Of these lead poisoning cases, the vast majority of those admitted to hospital were male and in their late 20s and early 30s. This demographic would not support an argument that the consumption of game as being the cause for lead poising, given the relatively young age range and the predominance of males.
Research in the US by the University of Illinois in 2008 into the effects of eating venison shot with lead, was misquoted by many anti shooting organisations as being a cause of lead poisoning. To clarify the situation, the University was forced to make the following statement:
“Mike Plumer, University of Illinois Extension Natural Resources Educator, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the use of lead ammunition poses no health risk to people. In fact, in their study in North Dakota, they found that the average lead levels in hunters tested was actually less than the average American. As for children of hunters, those under 6 had lead levels less than half the national average and children over 6 had levels even lower.
The Iowa Department of Public Health has been testing blood lead levels for more than 15 years. They say that in testing 500,000 youth under age 6 and 25,000 adults, there is no problem with lead in hunted venison or they would have found it by now”
Much of the evidence that relates to the use of lead ammunition and its environmental impact comes from studies abroad. In a review by the Food and Environment Research Agency of the 300 peer reviewed articles and government agency reports, which were to be used by the UK Lead Ammunition Group as evidence, only 10 were from the UK. This is important because not only do shooting practices differ from country to country, but species and habitats are also very different. For example, much of the research is based in the deserts of the United States of America. In such dry and rocky habitats the surface of the land is very hard and shot remains on the surface.
A further difference is in the species that are studied. Much of the current research is centred on the condor in the USA, which has a very different lifestyle to any British bird of prey. The feeding habits and home habitats are not comparable to British birds of prey. Similarly, when life spans are considered, the condor is expected to live up to sixty years; while, the British buzzard averages around 8 years and the golden eagle 14 years. Such research is therefore not applicable to the UK situation, as elevated lead levels in condors has many more years to become established given the length of lifespan.
Alternatives to Lead Ammunition
Several other options have been produced which try and replicate the unique ballistic performance of lead. With a density of 11.3 g/m3, any replacement must have a very similar density whilst also sharing the same ability to deform under little pressure
The goal of an alternative which reproduces these qualities is imperative to ensure that animals are killed efficiently and humanely as possible. It is imperative that any alternative is also similar in price, as a shift to higher priced ammunition could lead to a reduction in the frequency of shooting.
The alternatives include: Tungsten, bismuth, steel and cooper. However the impact these elements could have on the environment and human health has not been explored. As is our position that any ban on lead shot or further restriction has to be based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence, we recommend the alternatives to lead shot should be subject to the same level of analysis.
Tungsten is a much denser metal than lead at 19.6 g/m3, and is also very hard (Tungsten carbide is used for tools). In order to prevent barrel damage, particles of the metal are suspended in a form of epoxy. Most tungsten shot can be fired through normally proofed guns. The cost of tungsten cartridges can be up to ten times that of lead.
There are also concerns that tungsten can be dangerous for human and animal health. The US army, after producing so called “green” training rounds made of tungsten in place of depleted uranium, were removed from use in 2007, after research by the University of Arizona suggested that tungsten may elevate the risk for cancer, placing troops at risk. In addition, the Lancet reported a case of a Soldier developing seizures having consumed alcohol and trace amounts of tungsten metal.
Although evidence suggests that tungsten is not good for human health, we are not aware of any study which looks into the issue of tungsten in the environment, or indeed, in the toxicity in wild animals.
Being less dense than lead, at 9.7 g/m3, bismuth does not match the ballistic performance of lead. Also being less malleable it does not deform in the target, but can fragment. Slightly larger shot is required to retain energy at the target, reducing the pattern of the shot. The cost of bismuth is around five times that of lead.
Despite the metal chemically resembling arsenic, bismuth has relatively low toxicity. Nevertheless, bismuth is a byproduct of the lead mining process, and its price is kept low by the extraction of lead. There would be a decrease in supply if lead mining was curtailed, which would also result in an increase in price.
Steel shot is actually made of iron and is comparable to lead in terms of price. However, being much less dense than lead, at 7.8 g/m3 (69% the density of lead), it shares very different ballistic capabilities. As such, larger shot is required to retain energy at the target, thus reducing the number of pellets in a given load. The reduced load density and hardness of steel increase the probability of wounding the target species, rather than killing outright.
To solve this, larger cartridges are made, but these do not fit standard game guns. In order to impart more energy, some steel loads are loaded to give higher muzzle velocities. These require guns that have been proved to higher pressures than normal guns.
Patterns and the penetration of the shot charge suffer. Ricochets are also common, and to prevent injuries or loss of sight, it is not recommended to use steel shot in wooded areas or other areas where ricochets could occur.
Although there is no known biological effect of ingesting steel shot, ferrous metal pellets inside the body have the potential to cause complications and internal damage during certain medical procedures, such as MRI scans.
Copper bullets are used as substitute in rifle ammunition only (i.e. single projectiles). As with other substitutes, the lack of density leads to differing ballistic properties. As a result, accuracy often suffers, which is vital when ensuring a humane dispatch of live quarry. Such substitutes cost a lot more than lead products. For large quarry shooting this may not be such an issue, due to the small amounts fired. However, for target and small game shooting, this cost would become prohibitive.
As with lead, copper is also toxic and can poison humans if consumed, hence the need for copper cookware to be properly coated. Much more research needs to be performed before we can be assured that any replacement for lead does don’t cause more serious health issues than the original substances.
Shooting in the United Kingdom – Key Facts
The United Kingdom has a very long tradition of shooting and has led the world in the development of the sporting shotgun. It is estimated that nearly 1 million people take part in shooting sports in the United Kingdom, from informal shoots to Olympic competition.
Game shooting is worth £1.6 billion to the British economy and supports nearly 70,000 full time jobs, many in remote rural areas. Shooting also contributes nearly 2.7 million man days on conservation of the British countryside every year.
The UK also has a unique game shooting tradition with a much greater focus on inland shooting than other European countries. As such, any further restriction or ban on lead shot would have a disproportionate effect on shooting in the United Kingdom compared to other European countries.
Moreover, a ban on lead in ammunition would have a seriously negative impact on the shooting industry because most of the guns made by the historic British gun makers, and many from abroad, are unsuitable for use with alternatives to lead that are economically comparable. The alternatives to lead with comparative ballistic capability can cost up to 10 times more than lead.
The negative effects a ban would have on shooting are wider than just driven shooting. Many forms of pest control, which are vital to retaining the balance of nature in our countryside, would also be curtailed due to spiraling costs of ammunition.
Control of agricultural pests, such and rabbits and pigeons, relies heavily on individuals to cull the required numbers of these animals in order to protect vital food crops. Without such protection, crop yields across the country could potentially be reduced. Similarly, the same can be said for control of predator species, which need to be controlled in order to protect native flora and fauna from being overgrazed or predated.