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Groups seek ban on lead ammunition, fishing tackle

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WASHINGTON — Five environmental groups urged the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday to ban lead in ammunition and fishing tackle, arguing that millions of animals are dying from eating lead-shot pellets or carcasses contaminated by lead.

"It's long past time do something about this deadly — and preventable — epidemic of lead poisoning in the wild," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. The center was one of the five groups that submitted the 100-page petition to the EPA, which includes hundreds of scientific studies the groups say demonstrate the harm lead does to wildlife. The groups say an estimated 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals die each year from lead poisoning in the U.S.

The center, along with the American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and a hunters group called Project Gutpile, are seeking a ban under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Facing the greatest risk of severe toxic concentrations are animals that scavenge carcasses that have been killed by hunters, according to the petition. It says species such as bald and golden eagles and endangered California condors are often killed or sickened by lead poisoning by scavenging meat with lead fragments from ammunition.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, called the petition an "anti-hunting attack on traditional ammunition."

There is already a national ban on lead ammunition for shooting waterfowl. The shooting group says that goes far enough.

"There is simply no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having an adverse impact on wildlife populations that would require restricting or banning the use of traditional ammunition beyond current limitations, such as the scientifically-based restriction on waterfowl hunting," said the group's president, Steve Sanetti. The group said that point is underscored by the rising population of bald eagles.

Michael Fry, the American Bird Conservancy's conservation advocacy director, said the bald eagles' recovery was due in part to the ban on lead ammunition in waterfowl hunting.

"It's wonderful they're recovering, but that's no excuse to continue poisoning them," he said.

The groups concede that non-lead ammunition is more expensive, but argue that as it becomes more available, its cost will come down.

The EPA has 90 days to grant or deny the petition. The agency did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.