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Environmentalists push Minnesota to ban lead bullets, tackle over health concerns

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A loon chick rides on the back of its parent
Nationally, between 12 and 50 percent of dead loons were killed by lead fishing tackle, according to research cited by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Kirsti Marohn | MPR News file

Several environmental groups are petitioning the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to ban lead fishing tackle and ammunition across the state, arguing the toxic chemical poses too great a threat to wildlife and human health.

The rules, proposed by Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas, would ban lead fishing tackle in most of the state and outlaw lead bullets and shot everywhere.

“We all know that lead is bad for people, it’s bad for wildlife. It’s just not something that should be voluntarily introduced to our environment by hunters and fishermen and others,” said petition author Tom Casey, who chairs Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas.

A DNR spokesperson said the agency is reviewing Casey’s petition. It’s legally obligated to respond by Nov. 2.

Lead is toxic in wildlife. It works its way into animals via fishing tackle and ammunition made from lead. Scavengers can inadvertently ingest lead by feasting on animals who were shot with lead ammunition or who swallowed lead tackle.

This is common in eagles. Lead-poisoned birds often wind up at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center once deer hunting season begins. The lead destroys their neurological system, causing the birds to seize and breathe abnormally. Often, they die or are euthanized.

Loons can fall victim to lead, too. Nationally, between 12 and 50 percent of dead loons were killed by lead fishing tackle, according to research cited by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

An X-ray shows a loon skeleton with a lead fishing lure inside
This 2013 X-ray shows a common loon found on Cape Cod with lead fishing lure inside.
Tufts Wildlife Clinic

Minnesota has outlawed lead shot for waterfowl hunting since 1987, but there are few other restrictions on lead products in fishing and hunting.

Casey and others have pushed the DNR for widespread lead tackle and ammo bans before. But he’s hopeful things will be different under new DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.

“Given a chance to think about this more carefully, I think the administration [would be] remiss in not moving forward with our request to ban lead ammunition and lead fishing tackle,” Casey said.

He cited the state’s recent shuttering of the Water Gremlin plant as reason for the ban.

The plant made fishing tackle and battery components in White Bear Township, Minn. State agencies closed it earlier this week following two employees’ children testing positive for dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

Casey said human health is at risk as lead from ammunition and fishing tackle builds up in the environment.

“Sooner or later that lead is going to be exposed to children,” Casey said, “and that’s not a good thing.”