California is the First State to Ban the Use of Toxic Lead Ammunition

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

A 2013 bill passed in the California legislature banning the use of lead bullets for hunting went into effect on July 1st.

California is the first state to ban lead ammunition for hunting. A bill that passed in October 2013 went into effect on July 1, 2019, which bans lead ammunition in California when shooting wildlife. Assembly Bill 711 required the California Fish and Game Commission to phase out lead ammunition.

“Switching to nontoxic ammunition will save the lives of thousands of birds and other wildlife and prevent hunting families from being exposed to toxic lead,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Lead ammunition poses a threat to wildlife and humans

In 2013, 30 scientists, doctors, and public health experts crafted a letter on the dangers lead exposure from lead ammunition poses to wildlife and humans. The letter points out several points about lead exposure, including that lead is “officially recognized” as a known carcinogen by the state of California and the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer. The letter also points out that lead is toxic to a wide swath of wildlife and to humans. “Lead-based ammunition is likely the greatest, largely unregulated source of lead knowingly discharged into the environment in the United States,” the letter states.

Back in 2013, two environmental toxicologists from the University of California, Santa Cruz backed the bill that required lead ammunition to be phased out. Donald Smith and Myra Finkelstein knew that the bill was necessary to protect both people and wildlife from lead poisoning. “This is a landmark policy bill that will have direct impacts on improving environmental and human health in California,” Smith said.

Smith and Finkelstein spent a decade conducting research on lead ammunition and confirmed that it is the main source of lead poisoning in California condors. Condors ingest bullet fragments because they are scavenger birds and as a result, they can end up ingesting fragments of bullets. Their 2012 study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the condor population will not be able to recover as long as they are exposed to lead from ammunition. The study concluded that the only way that “true recovery” pf the condor population can be achieved is with “the

Other states have restrictions on lead ammunition

Federal law requires that non-lead ammunition be used when hunting waterfowl and when hunting with a shotgun on wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas. Some states have additional restrictions on lead ammunition beyond federal regulations. One of those states is Colorado which requires hunters to use non-toxic ammunition in the Alamosa/Monte Vista/Baca National Wildlife Refuge Complex and for hunting ducks, geese or coots. Delaware requires all hunters use non-toxic ammunition while dove hunting in state wildlife areas. Illinois requires non-toxic ammunition when dove hunting on certain public lands.

A court case is pending concerning banning the use of lead ammunition in Arizona’s Kaibab National Forest. A lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council sought an order requiring the Forest Service to ban lead ammunition in the national forest.

What you can do

If you live outside of California, there is something you can do. Sign a petition to ban or restrict the use of lead ammunition. A Care2 petition asks the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to restore the Obama-era ban on lead ammunition on federal lands.


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