, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp 279-295

The ecotoxicology of lead shot and lead fishing weights

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Lead shot ingestion is the primary source of elevated lead exposure and poisoning in waterfowl and most other bird species. For some species (e.g. Common Loons, Gavia immer), lead sinker ingestion is a more frequent cause of lead poisoning. In freshwater environments where recreational angling activity and loon populations co-occur, lead poisoning from ingestion of small (<50 gram) lead sinkers or jigs accounts for 10–50% of recorded adult loon mortality, depending on the locations studied. Lead shot ingestion occurs in waterfowl, and in a wide variety of non-waterfowl species, including upland game birds, shorebirds, raptors, and scavengers. Where it has been explicitly studied in Canada and the US, lead poisoning mortality of bald (Haliacetus leucocephalus) and golden eagles (Aquila chrysactos) from eating prey animals with lead shot embedded in their tissues accounts for an estimated 10–15% of the recorded post-fledging mortality in these raptorial species. In addition to environments that experience hunting with lead shot, clay target shooting ranges, especially those in which the shotfall zones include ponds, marshes, lakes, rivers, beaches, or other aquatic-type environments, create a significant risk of shot ingestion and poisoning for waterbirds. Metallic lead pellets deposited onto soils and aquatic sediments are not chemically or environmentally inert, although tens or hundreds of years may be required for total breakdown and dissolution of pellets. Functional, affordable non-toxic alternatives to lead shot and sinkers are being currently produced, and additional such products are being developed. Several countries have successfully banned the use of small lead sinkers, and of lead shot for waterfowl and other hunting, also for clay target shooting, using a phasing-out process that gives manufactures, sellers, and users adequate time to adjust to the regulations.