The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday denied a petition by five environmental groups to ban lead in hunting ammunition, saying the issue is not within the agency's jurisdiction.
The EPA said it did not have the authority to enact the ban, aimed at protecting wildlife, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, as the groups had requested.
But the agency said it's still reviewing another part of the petition, to ban lead fishing sinkers.
The EPA informed one of the groups, American Bird Conservancy, of the decision in a letter.
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The groups had argued in their petition that millions of animals are dying from eating lead-shot pellets or carcasses contaminated by lead. They said an estimated 10 million to 20 million birds and other animals die each year from lead poisoning in the U.S.
In a petition filed earlier this month, the environmental groups argued that instances of lead poisoning from ammunition and fishing sinkers "present an unreasonable risk of injury" to both human health and the environment.
The petition cited nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific articles that the environmental groups said document the toxic effects of lead on wildlife.
These studies "conclude that the lead components of bullets, shotgun pellets, fishing weights and lures pose an unreasonable risk of injury to human and wildlife health and the environment," the Aug. 3 petition argued.
The EPA was required to respond to the petition within 90 days.
"EPA is taking action on many fronts to address major sources of lead in our society, such as eliminating childhood exposure to lead," Steve Owens, the agency's assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention said in a statement.
But he said the agency "was not and is not considering taking action on whether the lead content in hunting ammunition poses an undue threat to wildlife."
The environmentalists were sharply critical of the EPA decision, arguing the agency has the authority to act and that there is a wide range of non-lead ammunition available.
"The EPA had ample evidence that lead bullets and shot have a devastating effect on America's wildlife, yet has refused to do anything about it," said Darin Schroeder, vice president for conservation advocacy at the American Bird Conservancy, one of the petitioners. "It's disappointing to see this country's top environmental agency simply walk away from the preventable poisoning of birds and other wildlife."
Also signing the petition were the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Project Gutpile.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)