Getting the Lead Out

August 31, 2011

Sante Fe is the first province in Argentina to take steps toward cutting allowable amounts of lead ammunition used for hunting. WCS commends the effort and hopes others will follow their lead against lead pollution.

Hunters flock to Sante Fe, Argentina for a chance to shoot rosy-billed pochards,  fulvous whistling ducks and other waterfowl species for which the province is famous. Some unlucky ducks lie in the hunters’ wake, but a less obvious impact is the pollution the hunters’ bullets bring to the region. Current estimates put the amount of lead introduced into Santa Fe’s ecosystems every year at 10 tons.

Lead within gunshot seeps into the environment, contaminating soil, vegetation and wildlife. But things are looking up for the duck season ahead. A new regulation demands that hunters cut down their lead shot usage by 25 percent. The law is Argentina’s first step against lead pollution from gunshot, but WCS hopes it will not be the last.

“The government of Santa Fe has set an admirable precedent in the reduction of lead ammunition in the province’s hunting grounds, a move that will benefit the region’s people and wildlife,” said Dr. Robert Cook, Executive Vice President and General Director of WCS’s Living Institutions. “We encourage other states and stakeholders to begin the same process.”

In January WCS researchers began taking a closer look at how this lead exposure affects wildlife, which sometimes ingest lead pellets. The study examines the density of lead within the bodies of ducks, living and dead, and within the wetlands where hunting occurs. So far, the team has collected blood samples from 24 live ducks and tissue samples from about 300 ducks that were killed by hunters. As expected, preliminary results show significant levels of lead in the gizzards, blood, and bones of the ducks tested.

Water, vegetation, and soil samples from areas with and without hunting activity are also part of the region-wide analysis. Lead, of course, is dangerous to humans, too, and the research assesses the threats the lead ammunition potentially poses to human health.

“This is a huge step forward,” said WCS’s Dr. Marcela Uhart, the study’s principal investigator. “We commend the government of Santa Fe for acting on the preliminary results of our study. This is the first such regulation in the country and, hopefully, it will serve as a model for other provinces to emulate.”

For more information, see the press release.

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