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Going Green

Lead Fragments from a copper jacketed round next to a mono-metal bullet

The concept of going green is not a new one.

We see it in building designs, farming, the automotive industry and even fishing. The environment is a precious resource, and none are more aware of that than the shooters like you and me out on the range, walking our hunting dogs or in the bush stalking antelope. We know the dangers of deforestation and dumping, try to minimize our impact by leaving our campsites clean and not dumping our used oil in the bushes when we change the filter.

Yet every year millions of lead hunting bullets are created world-wide, many of which land up in the game meat we eat—poisoning not only the environment but our own families.

We all know lead is bad. We took it out our paint and try not to touch it with our bare skin, but if you think that is sufficient precautions to take then like many you may be woefully misinformed.

Lead is a heavy metal, a class of high relative atomic weights that are all toxic to humans in high doses. Of them Lead is one of the worst, with absolutely no amount being healthy. It is also one of the most likely to come in contact with. Even after many countries have banned lead in many processes and products it’s still largely unavoidable.

Each year people are exposed to various levels of lead by everything from timber and pipes to contaminated water and even the soil. Even after being banned for decades the U.S. still spends millions of dollars on removing lead paint from old homes each month.

Lead epidemics are an old story and still frequently occur. It’s well reported on and huge amounts of scientific research has been done on the subject in one form or another. Thanks to this research lead has been removed from numerous items that were used in our everyday life. Even cans that were used in food storage originally were sealed by lead. It’s all gone or being taken care of, albeit slowly, yet lead hunting bullets are still in production.

Lead poisoning symptoms differ between adults and children, with children far more at risk from lead poisoning because their bodies are smaller, are in a constant state of growth and lead is absorbed faster than in adults. Lead exposure in young children has been linked to learning disabilities and short term memory loss, decreased intelligence, emotional regulation issues and social engagement. The fine motor skills are affected as well. Children with a blood lead content of greater than 10ug/dL (micrograms per deciliter) run the risk of development disabilities. If you want to know how much that is, a teaspoonful of lead could poison 400 children.

At levels of above 5ug/dl in the human body you are said to have elevated lead levels in your body. Around 10ug/dl you start feeling the side effects. 20ug/dl and the side effects become drastic and at around 40 to 60ug/dl it can lead to death.

When lead is taken up into the body a percentage lies in the muscles and an amount lands up in the blood while the balance sits in the bones and teeth.  Lead absorbed into the blood and muscles stay in the body for around 40 days before being passed out. Around 80% of all lead lands up in the bones and teeth and can remain in the body in excess of 20 years.

Headaches, abdominal pains, memory loss, kidney failure, male reproductive problems, sleep problems as well as decreased Libido are just some of the possible long term symptoms which can occur even in low doses. Higher lead levels are also associated with high blood pressure, coronary heart diseases and neuron dysfunctions—especially the motor nerves and central nervous system.

So what does any of this have to do with shooting? More than you may think.

While there has not been as extensive research done around the effects of lead from lead-core hunting bullets and the effects of this lead on humans it has none the less been studied, and the results are staggering.

Once a bullet enters an animal the meat, sinews and bone all have the possibility to be tainted. Removing the bullet in a timely fashion and cutting around the wound does not necessarily remove the risk. Bullets break apart, tiny particles tear off and can be seeded in to anything they touch. Time and time again X-rays have shown sizeable lead splatter in animal carcasses shot with lead bullets, and that’s just the lead big enough to be picked up on the x-ray machines.

Game meat then taken home to be eaten poses a potentially serious health risk for the family that eats it, not just the hunter.

A study showed that 2% of people who regularly ate game meat shot with lead bullets showed high levels of lead, with many more showing lower levels. The homeless who were the recipients of excess game meat initiatives also showed elevated lead levels.

It doesn’t stop there. Animals that are shot with lead bullets are potential dangers all the way down the food chain. Saturated meat is cut out and given to the farm workers or thrown out for the jackals or other predators to eat. This lead-shot meat laying out in the veld will be eaten by red meerkats, warthogs, bush pigs, numerous bird species and insects, eventually making its way in to the soil to be taken up by some plants which are eaten by animals or humans and the cycle starts anew. Lead in game meat has been shown to kill birds of prey who feed on the tainted meat.

With no amount of lead being safe shouldn’t we be taking every precaution to avoid it?

Now on the other side of the coin there are many who believe that lead and hunting are not a risk. A common belief is that lead bullets are not in the correct form be absorbed by the body. Others doubt the studies or site questionable sources.

Governments and agencies around the world and for a long time have known just how bad the problem is, but they are resistant to combatting lead for no reason other than the cost of removing it. Just like many will be hesitant to move from lead because of its relatively cheap cost. Not to mention the pushback from companies who use it, whose profits depend on their products remaining on the shelf. Of course it’s in their best interests to downplay the effects of lead and happily let people believe their products are safe.

Everyone has their opinion and no matter how much evidence mounts up from multiple studies to governments slowly taking action to ban it some people will not listen. We’re all biased until shown a nicely packaged alternative. Most just don’t realize the danger yet, or never really gave it any thought. The information is there though, and in the day and age of the internet recognized and peer reviewed studies are easily obtainable.

Even if you have your doubts consider this—is even a tiny amount of exposure worth the potential health risks to you or your family?

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