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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: What’s the big deal about lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle? If an animal is going to die anyway, it’s not going to get lead poisoning, right?

—Bill Joyce, Euclid, OH

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, lead is an extremely toxic element that is entering the food chain through widespread use of lead hunting ammunition and fishing tackle, poisoning wildlife and even threatening human health.

Photo © KevinChang, courtesy Flickr

The issue of lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle isn’t so much about lead contaminating the spoils of hunters and fishermen but about lead accumulating in our ecosystems and poisoning other animals that ingest it. “Lead is an extremely toxic element that we’ve sensibly removed from water pipes, gasoline, paint and other sources dangerous to people,” reports the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “Yet toxic lead is still entering the food chain through widespread use of lead hunting ammunition and fishing tackle, poisoning wildlife and even threatening human health.”

The group reports that at least 75 wild bird species in the United States—including bald eagles, golden eagles, ravens and endangered California condors—are routinely poisoned by spent lead ammunition. Meanwhile, every year thousands of cranes, ducks, swans, loons, geese and other waterfowl ingest spent lead shot or lead fishing sinkers lost in lakes and rivers “often with deadly consequences.”

“Animals that scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments, or wading birds that ingest spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights mistaking them for food or grit, can die a painful death from lead poisoning, while others suffer for years from its debilitating effects,” reports CBD. Across the U.S. some 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunters every year. Another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, and 4,000 tons in fishing lures and sinkers are lost in ponds and streams. CBD estimates that as many as 20 million birds and mammals in the U.S. die every year as a result.

Of course, lead ammunition also poses health risks to people, especially those consuming hunted meat. “Lead bullets explode and fragment into minute particles in shot game and can spread throughout meat that humans eat,” says CBD. “Studies using radiographs show that numerous, imperceptible, dust-sized particles of lead can infect meat up to a foot and a half away from the bullet wound, causing a greater health risk to humans who consume lead-shot game than previously thought.”

CBD launched its Get the Lead Out campaign in March 2012 to raise awareness about the issue and help build support for a federally mandated transition to non-toxic bullets, shot and fishing gear. The coalition includes groups from 38 different states representing conservationists, birders, hunters, scientists, veterinarians, Native Americans and public employees. In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied the coalition’s request to take toxic lead out of hunting ammunition. In response, CBD and six other groups filed suit against EPA in June for refusing to address the problem.

Opponents of CBD (such as the National Rifle Association/NRA) are on the offensive, supporting the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (HR 4089), a bill that aims to open up more federal land to hunting, limit the President’s ability to invoke the Antiquities Act to designate new protected lands, and prevent the EPA from regulating ammunition containing lead, among other provisions. The bill recently passed a floor vote in the House of Representatives, but political analysts doubt it will make it through the Senate.

CONTACTS: CBD’s “Get the Lead Out”; Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 on Govtrack.

 
A NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!

 

Dear EarthTalk: I have heard that fracking is becoming a major environmental issue in the U.S. Which parts of the country are already hosting fracking operations? Are there efforts underway to stop the practice in specific states or across the country?

—Jim Ross, Toronto, ON

Hydraulic Fracturing, or "fracking," involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure into sub-surface rock to create fractures that facilitate the flow of recoverable oil or gas. Opponents worry that the technique is polluting groundwater and air and poisoning communities. Pictured: Drinking water from a well near a fracking site.

Photo © Michael Fitzgerald

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a process whereby drillers blast millions of gallons of water, sand and hazardous chemicals at high-pressure into sub-surface rock formations to create fractures that facilitate the flow of recoverable oil or gas. The technique has proven so effective at reaching previously hard-to-access reserves that it has helped spur a boom in natural gas production around the country.

This influx of domestic natural gas means lower home heating costs and thousands of new jobs in the industry. But opponents point to dozens of fracking-related accidents in recent years and worry that the technique is polluting groundwater and air and poisoning communities—all to get at more fossil fuels when we’d all be better off moving more quickly toward developing clean, renewable energy sources.

While fracking goes on all across the country, the Marcellus Shale, a layer of sedimentary bedding under the Allegheny plateau that spans nine northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, has become America’s primary fracking grounds. Thanks to fracking and other new extraction techniques, the gas industry is now able to access the natural gas in the Shale and beginning in 2006 commenced big extraction operations in parts of western New York State, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and elsewhere. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 489 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—400 times what New York State uses in a year—throughout the Shale. The race is now on to extract as much as possible as quickly as possible.

But it’s this very gold rush mentality that has led to many so-called “fraccidents” in and around the Shale. The group Earthjustice tracks and publicizes such incidents online via its “Fracking Gone Wrong” campaign. They list dozens of examples of tainted drinking water, polluted air and industrial disasters caused or exacerbated by fracking at or near extraction sites since operations began six years ago.

“Wherever Marcellus development has occurred in Pennsylvania, reports of poisoned water, sick kids and dead animals have followed,” reports Marcellus Protest, an alliance of western Pennsylvania organizations seeking to halt fracking operations. The group coordinates anti-fracking efforts, organizes demonstrations and produces educational materials, including the website MarcellusShale.org, a clearinghouse on fracking and related activism. Its advocacy work helped convince the Pittsburgh city council to ban fracking there back in 2010 and is now working to extend the ban to other areas in the region and beyond.

The controversy has not escaped Hollywood. The 2010 HBO film, Gasland, followed Josh Fox around the U.S. on a quest to find out what impact fracking was having on communities after he was asked to lease his own land for hydraulic fracturing. And a forthcoming Gus Van Sant film, Promised Land, starring Matt Damon focuses on a small farming town that sells its agricultural land to frackers and pays a heavy price in losing a lifestyle and a livelihood while jeopardizing public health. Activists hope these films will go a long way to convince Americans and their elected officials to say no to more fracking.

CONTACTS: Earthjustice; Marcellus Protest; Gasland; Promised Land trailer.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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