It’s been about a week since hunters across the nation fanned out with the hopes of blasting songbirds from the sky. They will succeed at killing lots of birds, at least 40 million. But to kill all those birds the hunters will have to fire quite a few shots. Most of those shots — about eight out of every nine — miss. All that buckshot goes into the air, and all that buckshot has to come back down.

A whopping 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunters every year. If you combine that with the lead used for fishing tackle and at shooting ranges, the number climbs even higher. As noted in a recent post by Martin Matheny, the total amount of lead released into the environment is somewhere in the neighborhood of 87,000 tons: “By way of comparison, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, the largest ship in the U.S. Navy, weighs in at around 100,000 tons.”

Sowing the earth with lead shot isn’t really a good idea. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, an estimated 10 to 20 million animals die from lead poisoning every year in the United States. It’s the leading cause of death in adult loons, and a major factor in the early deaths of raptors such as the Bald Eagle and California Condor. Others animals don’t die, but suffer lifelong, debilitating effects from lead contamination. These include reduced reproduction, inhibited growth, and damage to neurological development. Hunters, too, are at risk, as 87 percent of cooked game killed with lead ammunition can contain unsafe levels of lead.

So, the lead in ammunition is a proven danger to wildlife and the people who like to kill wildlife. It is, one could say, a threat to the environment. If only we had some sort of agency in charge of regulating threats to the environment. Oh, wait. We do: The Environmental Protection Agency. Maybe they can do something about this problem.

Or maybe not. In August, several wildlife organizations petitioned the EPA to ban the use of lead hunting ammunition under the Toxic Substances Control Act. Makes sense, as lead is obviously a toxic substance. The EPA’s response? They claim the agency does “not have the legal authority to regulate this type of product under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – nor is the agency seeking such authority.”

But lead is a toxic substance, isn’t it? The EPA acknowledges it is: “EPA is taking action on many fronts to address major sources of lead in our society, such as eliminating childhood exposures to lead; however, EPA was not and is not considering taking action on whether the lead content in hunting ammunition poses an undue threat to wildlife.” Real helpful there, EPA.

Who knows? Maybe TSCA is worded in such a way that the EPA really doesn’t have jurisdiction to protect wildlife by regulating lead ammunition. My guess is they were cowed by vocal opposition from hunting industry defenders such as the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. As Nikki Gloudeman detailed in an earlier post, the NRA “waged a fiery battle against a ban, claiming it posed a threat to their most sacred Second Amendment,” and got environment-bashing Sen. James Inhofe to add his “voice to the chorus of dissent.” The chorus, not surprisingly, seemed to compose mostly of members of the pro-hunting lobby.

Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: As long as the EPA chooses to do nothing, millions of animals will continue to be poisoned and killed by lead ammunition. So take time to tell the EPA to act to ban lead-based hunting ammo and fishing tackle. Don’t let the voice of the hunting lobby be the only voice the government hears.

Photo Credit: Public Domain