This guest blog is contributed by Art Smith, medical services volunteer of 18 years at Liberty Wildlife. His suggestion to me that my comments weren’t totally correct related to lead poisoning issues, lead me to invite him to write this very illuminating article. Please read it to the end and take action.
Lead and patients of Liberty
One thing that I believe everyone at Liberty agrees on is Lead is Bad! What is Lead? and Where is Lead Found?
Lead, Pb, the 82nd element is a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. Lead can be found in all parts of our environment – the air, the soil, the water, and even inside our homes. Much of our exposure comes from human activities including the use of fossil fuels including past use of leaded gasoline, some types of industrial facilities, and past use of lead-based paint in homes. Lead and lead compounds have been used in a wide variety of products found in and around our homes, including paint, ceramics, dinnerware, pipes and plumbing materials,solders,gasoline, batteries, ammunition, and cosmetics.
While natural levels of lead in soil range between 50 and 400 parts per million, mining, smelting, and refining activities have resulted in substantial increases in lead levels in the environment, especially near mining and smelting sites.
Federal and state regulatory standards have helped to minimize or eliminate the amount of lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, gasoline, copper plumbing joints, paint, dishes, children’s toys and occupational settings.
Lead is particularly dangerous to children because their growing bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Babies and young children can also be more highly exposed to lead because they often put their hands and other objects that can have lead from dust or soil on them into their mouths. Children may also be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead, inhaling lead dust from lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil or from playing with toys with lead paint.
Adults may be exposed to lead by eating and drinking food or water containing lead or from dishes or glasses that contain lead. They may also breathe lead dust by spending time in areas where lead-based paint is deteriorating, and during renovation or repair work that disturbs painted surfaces in older homes and buildings. Working in a job or engaging in hobbies where lead is used, such as making stained glass, can increase exposure as can certain folk remedies containing lead. A pregnant woman’s exposure to lead from these sources is of particular concern because it can result in exposure to her developing baby.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) monitors blood lead levels in the United States.
- The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.
- Until recently, children were identified as having a blood lead level of concern if the test result is 10 or more micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. Experts now use a new level based on the U.S. population of children ages 1-5 years who are in the top 2.5% of children when tested for lead in their blood (when compared to children who are exposed to more lead than most children). Currently that is 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in blood. The new, lower value means that more children likely will be identified as having lead exposure allowing parents, doctors, public health officials, and communities to take action earlier to reduce the child’s future exposure to lead.
EPA uses the CDC data to show trends on blood lead levels in children in America’s Children and the Environment.
All this being said where does that leave the birds and mammals that Liberty is most concerned with. Where use of lead has been eliminated has been through the efforts and regulations put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. The CDC is concerned about a blood lead level of 5 micrograms/deciliter in children yet we regularly have California Condors presenting for treatment with blood lead levels of upwards of 795 micrograms/deciliter. Let’s call Condors the top end of the current “Lead problem”. I am convinced and we have some data to prove that every raptor, eagle, Osprey, the owls, hawks, falcons, and many of the passerines that we see have some elevated blood levels of lead when they present for treatment.
The state and federal agencies that seem to care at some level about lead blood levels in children of 5 micrograms/deciliter seem to have little or no concern about our native wildlife perishing of lead poisoning. Where does this lead come from? We know it is naturally occurring but you would have to eat a lot of dirt to have a bad experience with lead. For our birds and mammals it comes from some foods they eat and some of the foods are contaminated with lead. The lead that contaminates food for wildlife comes from two main sources; shotgun shell pellets and lead fragments from lead bullets of both rim fire and center fire rifle cartridges. Today it is illegal in all 50 states to hunt or take waterfowl with lead shot. Lead shot was outlawed many years ago by the federal government. It was waterfowl hunters and organizations like Ducks Unlimited in the US, Canada and Mexico that really helped with that legislation. Many die hard duck hunters thought their lives were over when they had to use steel shot instead of lead. They adapted, the steel shot shells were improved and there are more shot guns and shells sold to hunters now than ever before. Unfortunately, upland birds, doves included may still be taken with lead shot. Lots of shooters out there and not too many hunters, therefore there are way too many wounded birds that are not found and taken home as well as lots of dead birds that people do not bother to fetch. The birds of prey that present with elevated lead levels have eaten those birds and therefore ingested lead. I worked hard for several years to get doves classified as migratory birds to eliminate lead shot in dove hunts but AZG&F thought it a bad idea and rejected it against expert advice.
Next consider the rifle cartridges with lead bullets. Lead bullets perform very well for the job they were designed to do. That is to penetrate, mushroom and fragment. They all do those things to some degree, some more some less. Use an elk as an example. If I shoot an elk in the body the bullet penetrates, mushrooms, and fragments all at a velocity of between 1400 and 2700 feet per second depending on the firearm and cartridge used. In other words it happens in a hurry. A .30 cal entry hole, about the diameter of the body of your ball point pen, leaves an exit hole larger than my doubled up fist. Everything it touched in its travel through the body is torn up with fragments of lead left in everything it touches, bone, meat, and the inner organs. This animal is field dressed, the gut pile is left behind and the hunter takes the meat home. Most hunters today would be alarmed at the number of lead fragments that remain in the meat they put on their dinner table for their family to consume. I have seen x-rays done by a game processor showing the lead in the meat from animals taken with lead bullets and used as an education tool.
We get several types of lead related issues at Liberty. Ingested lead from lead bullet fragments, ingested BB’s or lead shot from shot gun shells, .177 and .22 cal lead pellets from air rifles that are mainly breaking bones or putting out eyes but not ending up in the digestive track of the patients we treat. All are bad for wildlife but ingested lead is potentially deadly.
The scavengers eat what the hunter left behind. They also consume any animals that are mortally wounded but not retrieved. A regular lead cafeteria……a deadly meal. As the wildlife eat more of lead tainted food the levels of lead build and many die. Some like Condors and Eagles are spotted and brought to places like Liberty for long and very often successful treatment of high levels of lead.
Lead has been replaced with steel for waterfowl; copper bullets are available at competitive pricing by all ammunition manufacturers to replace lead bullets. That leaves a lot to chance by people who are not known to take change lightly. In order to make changes to give wildlife the same fighting chance the EPA has seen fit to give children and adults in our country there needs to be pressure put on the local agencies like AZG&F, State Legislature, your elected Federal Officials and most importantly the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. If we keep talking only to each other nothing is going to happen. We need to have the correct message and deliver it to the correct people. It takes time but the first step has to be taken. Instead of blogging each other, write your state representative, your congressman or the EPA, preferably all of them.
I am a native of Arizona and a lifelong gun owner and hunter. I’m a U.S Navy Veteran. I have worked with and around lead and lead alloys most of my life in things from the printing industry when hot metal type was used, developing low temperature high strength Lead/Indium/Silver and tin/lead/indium alloys for the semiconductor industry, eliminating lead solders from copper plumbing connections and eliminating lead pipe in industrial applications. I am a Life Member of Ducks Unlimited and worked on the change over from lead to steel. Have convinced several big time hunters to switch to copper bullets, each of them saying they won’t kill anything and now not using anything but copper. I’m in my 18th year as a volunteer for Liberty, was in the first Medical Services class and still do a Med Services shift on Wednesday AM and have seen birds brought in for our care both recover or die in our arms while treating them for lead poisoning. There is not even a hint of gun control or 2nd amendment rights issues involved in changing from lead to copper, or lead to steel. If you are a hunter you should have been taught early to kill what you aim at. If you are in the Military you were taught to kill what you aim at, if you have a concealed carry permit you know about your liability for collateral damage if you use a weapon in the wrong situations. It is the collateral damage from using the wrong ammunition that I have been talking about. Thank You
This Week at Liberty
The intake total for the year now stands at 58.
As the year slowly ramps up, we’re seeing the usual progression of intake injuries, mostly juveniles and yearlings from last spring who are learning the do’s and don’ts of being apex predators (and some prey species!) The unfortunate thing is that nature, in all her wisdom, is a harsh teacher. In many cases, the test precedes the lesson, and a passing grade is continued existence and more testing each day, and a less than passing score means you get removed from the gene pool. Since the human portion of this constant evaluation is so prevalent, Liberty Wildlife is here to try to return some balance to the equation. Here’s what we did this week…
The juvenile duck that has been our patient in recent weeks is getting better. Her broken leg is getting stronger and she takes daily walks through the ICU and even the office! Hopefully she will be returned to her family soon and they will all be released to a safe lake in the area.
We all know (I hope!) that birds molt feathers on a fairly regular timetable. But you may not know that snakes also molt their skin whenever they grow enough to require more “room” inside their covering. Last week Joya, our Sinaloan milk snake, shed her skin almost intact. This kind of artifact adds to our educational display that really makes an impression on the kids who attend our programs.
As I pointed out above, this is the time of year that we seem to get in a large contingent of young (first year) red tailed hawks. Since they are so common, there are a lot of them out there and as youngsters they tend to make mistakes as do the young of all species (got any teen-agers at home?) When they get into trouble, the lucky ones find their way to Liberty and get the medical care they require to get back into the game and continue to learn the things they will need to know how to do in order to survive as adult hawks.
Another little falcon arrived recently presenting what seems to be a head injury. This is not uncommon with merlins and in order to properly diagnose the injury, Jan took the time to examine the bird’s eye where symptoms of head trauma often show up.
OK, not all the intakes were hawks. This GHO also arrived with some evidence of a head collision. No broken bones, but an abrasion on his left eye will require some treatment prior to his release. It isn’t often eye damage is visible without special equipment and it’s obvious this bird had a close encounter of the worst kind with some immovable object…
Now that the weather is turning nice – why we continue to live in Arizona! – some of our Education volunteers are taking advantage of the beautiful conditions for getting in some practice with the Ed birds. Last week, Michelle Boyer was out working with Veto and Snickers to add these birds to her list. The process allows volunteers and birds to get used to each other prior to going out to do presentations at schools and other functions. (It’s also a great time to get some nice pictures of the birds in a calm environment.)