Lead Bullets Bad For Humans Too

Lead Bullets Bad For Humans Too

Fragments from lead bullets often end up in game meat, according to a new study, and may end up on your plate.

Katherine Tweed
Published: 04/30/2009

white-tailed deer

Lead bullets can be deadly to endangered California condors, but a new study finds humans ingest the same toxin when eating game animals shot with lead ammunition.

People who eat venison from animals that were killed by lead-based bullets are at risk for exposure, even when the meat has been processed, according to a study from The Peregrine Fund and Washington State University.

“We interpret the absorption of lead into the bloodstream of our test animals as clear evidence that humans can absorb lead from ingested bullet fragments,” Grainger Hunt, lead author of the study, said in a press release.

Bullet fragments were found in ground meat from 24 of 30 deer shot with lead ammunition. Nearly all of those fragments contained lead. Researchers fed the meat with fragments to four pigs, while other pigs received meat from the same deer without fragments.

Two days later, average blood lead concentrations for the pigs that consumed bullet fragments were 2.3 micrograms per deciliter, nearly four times higher than the pigs that ate meat without shrapnel in it. While the concentrations were not overtly toxic, those levels would increase the body burden over time.

The research builds on 2008 research by the North Dakota Center for Disease Control that found people who ate game meat had elevated levels of lead in their blood.

There is no safe level exposure for lead, which can cause developmental and cognitive problems in children and has been associated with cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“It is conceivable that deer-hunting families attain higher lead levels with frequent consumption of venison,” Hunt said. “Lead bullet fragments were patchily distributed in the meat, so a person eating a single venison burger may or may not get a dose – it’s a game of Russian roulette. The more often they eat venison the higher the odds they will be exposed to lead.”

But there is good news. Lead-free bullets, which are mandatory in California condor habitat, are readily available in a range of shots. Click here to find out more about lead-free ammunition.