WASHINGTON— Congressional documents contradict the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent claim that it doesn’t have the authority to regulate toxic lead bullets and shot that commonly kill and harm bald eagles, trumpeter swans, endangered California condors and other wildlife. The EPA last month denied a petition to ban lead ammunition and require nontoxic alternatives for use in hunting. But the language of the Toxic Substances Control Act, as well as the Senate and House reports on the legislative history and intent of the Act, run counter to the EPA’s claim, in an Aug. 27 letter rejecting the lead ammunition portion of the petition, that it lacks regulatory authority.
“The Environmental Protection Agency’s denial was based on false assumptions and an inexplicable misreading of so-called exemptions in the Act,” said Adam Keats, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given the EPA’s clear authority and duty under the Toxic Substances Control Act to regulate toxic lead in ammunition to end unnecessary lead poisoning of wildlife and reduce human health risk, it appears that their decision to dodge the issue was politically motivated.”
In fact, according to a House report on the history and intent of the Act, “the Committee does not exclude from regulation under the bill chemical components of ammunition which could be hazardous because of their chemical properties.” The EPA appears to have been influenced by a misleading “legal opinion” sent by the National Rifle Association on Aug. 20. The Center has sent a Freedom of Information Act Request to the EPA asking for all documents related to the agency’s partial denial of the petition.
Last month the Center for Biological Diversity, American Bird Conservancy and other conservation groups petitioned the EPA to ban lead in bullets and shot for hunting, as well as lead in fishing tackle. The petition referenced nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers illustrating the widespread dangers of lead ammunition and fishing tackle. While the EPA is still considering the request for regulation of lead fishing tackle, it denied the portion of the petition regarding lead ammunition regulation. So far, 40 conservation groups in 16 states have signed onto the petition, including organizations representing physicians, veterinarians and zoos, birders, public employees, American Indians and hunters.
“We are going to get to the bottom of the politics behind the EPA decision — we are not going to let the agency simply walk away from the preventable poisoning of birds and other wildlife,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center. “We remain committed to making sure toxic lead is removed from the environment, and we’re continuing our campaign to see that through.”
Lead is an extremely toxic substance that is dangerous to people and wildlife even at low levels. Exposure can cause a range of health effects, from acute poisoning and death to long-term problems such as reduced reproduction, inhibition of growth and damage to neurological development. Wildlife is poisoned when animals scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead-bullet fragments, or pick up and eat spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights mistaking them for food or grit. Animals can die a painful death from lead poisoning or suffer for years from its debilitating effects. An estimated 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals die each year from lead poisoning in the United States.