Scientific consensus on lead

800px-7.5_CartridgesScientists occasionally produce consensus statements on issues. These are designed to be statements on what the science is and what it might mean. Here’s one on lead ammunition:
We, the undersigned, with scientific expertise in lead and human and/or environmental health, draw attention to the overwhelming scientific evidence, summarised below, on the toxic effects of lead on human and wildlife health. In light of this evidence, we support action in Europe to reduce and eventually eliminate the release of lead to the environment through the discharge of lead-based ammunition, in order to protect human and environmental health.
This statement is two and a half years old, which merely reinforces the urgent need for Defra to make up its mind on this issue – everyone else did years ago!
There are several things that struck me with this statement. First, the range of health evidence that it contains.  Note the statement that ‘No ‘safe’ blood lead level in children has been identified below which negative health effects cannot be detected (CDC 2012). Absorption of lead leading to even slightly elevated levels injures the developing human brain and is associated with lasting effects on intelligence (IQ) and behaviour.‘.
Second, that the range of experts endorsing the elimination of the release of lead to the environment came from 10 European and one North American country – a pretty broad-based range of expertise.
Third, the range of health and toxicology experts who were involved alongside names that I found more familiar from environmental health scientists. I don’t think I can claim that some of my best friends are toxicologists so I had to look a few of them up.  I notice that Prof Duffus has written several textbooks on toxicology and looks a pretty eminent sort of a guy. But perhaps even more striking was the name of Prof Alan Boobis. Boobis is not a name that meant anything to me but Prof Boobis is chair of the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) – an independent scientific committee that provides advice to the Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health and other Government Departments and Agencies on matters concerning the toxicity of chemicals. He was also chair of the EFSA Contam Panel which produced the European Food Safety Authority report on lead in food.
When Rory Stewart and Liz Truss survey the scene they look to one side and see the Shooting Times, Countryside Alliance, BASC and their supporters uttering statements like ‘I’ve never seen a duck with lead poisoning’, ‘Nobody ever died from lead poisoning’ etc and if they look the other way they find great tomes of scientific evidence and serried ranks of academics, non-British hunters and conservationists, pointing out that lead is a poison, it’s a real problem and that the solution is simple and that is to get rid of lead ammunition, as others have done, and use the non-toxic ammunition.
To one side they see vested interests and to the other side they see public servants, independent scientists and those with the public interest at heart.
To one side they see ignorance and to the other side they see clear science.
And yet they find it difficult to choose…
Defra’s continued delay in making a decision on this subject is scandalous.  What is the point of having a government department that cannot make a decent fist of governing? What is the point of having ministers who fail to make decisions in the public interest? What is the point of Defra these days?
Give these laggards a prod by signing Rob Sheldon’s e-petition to ban toxic lead ammunition.
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10 Replies to “Scientific consensus on lead”

  1. Tim Bonner, on the CA website, writes that the RSPB and WWT are relying on unproven evidence of the effects on human health and wildlife of using lead shot.
    May I therefore, ask the same question as I asked on this site two weeks ago, namely, where is your evidence that it causes NO harm?
    I really want to know the answer to this. In any argument I always try to see both sides, but for the life of me, I just can't find any evidence to support its continued use other than it is cheaper than the the alternatives. Again, as I said last time, surely normal market forces will prevail when lead shot is banned, and the alternatives will then become cheaper.
    Nobody gave me an answer last time, please, will somebody do so now.
    As I write this, the above already has two dislikes, please don't dislike my comment before answering.

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  2. I think you'll find that the European consensus statement is only one year old. The American consensus statement is two and half years old.

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    1. Bushshrike - I think you'll find, because it says so in the first line, that the statement referred to came out of a meeting in March 2013.

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  3. Read the second line then. "On 22 March 2013 a group of eminent scientists signed a consensus statement on Health Risks from Lead-Based Ammunition in the Environment with a particular focus on impacts in the USA http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/6dq3h64x. The statement below, based upon the USA statement, is intended to perform a similar function, but with a focus on impacts in Europe." And the citation at the bottom: "Suggested citation
    Group of Scientists, 2014. Wildlife and Human Health Risks from Lead-Based Ammunition in Europe: A Consensus Statement by Scientists."

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  4. The case against lead ammunition seems so overwhelming that I can't understand why Rob Sheldon's petition has so few signatures.
    The only reason I can think of for not signing is a vague fear that if the shooting fraternity was seen to behave in a reasonable fashion over this issue, it might make it more difficult to argue for more fundamental change and a ban on driven grouse shooting.

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    1. Can anyone explain to me why the pigeon racing fraternity are actively promoting the "keep lead ammunition'" petition? Do they use lead ammunition in their sport? I can perhaps understand farming groups urging their members to support toxic lead ammunition - although I think they are misguided. But pigeon owners?

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      1. Just read this about Monday's debate in Westminster Hall.

        http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2015-12-08a.319.0

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  5. I don't know much about birds, but I like loons - great northern divers very much. I have seen many of them in the States and was reading an interesting piece about them on Wikipedia the other day. This mentioned the fact that they dive to gather small grit and pebbles and sometimes pick up lead shot in the water and this can cause their deaths.

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