Study links lead in blood to wild game consumption

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota health officials are recommending that pregnant women and young children avoid eating meat from wild game killed with lead bullets.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota health officials are recommending that pregnant women and young children avoid eating meat from wild game killed with lead bullets.

The recommendation is based on a study released Wednesday that examined the lead levels in the blood of more than 700 state residents. Those who ate wild game killed with lead bullets appeared to have higher lead levels than those who ate little or no wild game.

The elevated lead levels were not considered dangerous, but North Dakota officials say pregnant women and children younger than 6 should avoid eating venison killed using lead bullets.

Those groups are considered most at risk from lead poisoning, which can cause learning problems and convulsions, and in severe cases can lead to brain damage and death.

The study, conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health department, is the first to connect lead traces in game with higher lead levels in the blood of people who ate it, said Dr. Stephen Pickard, a CDC epidemiologist who works with the state health department.


A separate study by Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources earlier found that fragments from lead bullets spread as far as 18 inches away from the wound.

"Nobody was in trouble from the lead levels," Pickard said. However, he said, "The effect was small but large enough to be a concern."

Pickard said the study found "the more recent the consumption of wild game harvested with lead bullets, the higher the level of lead in the blood."

Officials in North Dakota and other states have warned about eating venison killed with lead ammunition since the spring, when they were alerted by Dr. William Cornatzer of Bismarck, a physician and hunter. He conducted his own tests using a CT scanner and found lead in samples of donated deer meat.

The findings led North Dakota's health department to order food pantries to throw out donated venison. Some groups that organize venison donations called such actions premature and unsupported by science.

"There continues to be no evidence of human health risk from using traditional ammunition," said Lawrence Keane, a vice president and lawyer for the Newtown, Conn.-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry. "The report from the CDC appears to confirm we were right."

North Dakota's deer season begins Friday. Cornatzer said he has two deer tags, and plans to shoot the animals with solid copper bullets.

Health officials say the best way to avoid ingesting lead-tainted venison is to use bullets that don't contain lead.


"It's a no-brainer," Cornatzer said. "Hunters with wives of childbearing age and those with children should be concerned about this.

"No one is trying to take anyone's bullets away, but hunters need to educated that there are safer alternatives out there and they should use them," Cornatzer said.

Terry Steinwand, director of North Dakota's Game and Fish Department, said 21 employees from his agency participated in the CDC study. Each had eaten game shot with lead bullets and the study found that each had low lead levels in their blood, he said.

Steinwand said he would likely continue to use lead bullets when hunting.

"Any information is good information," Steinwand said. "(But) it's not going to change my habits one bit, not at this stage in my life."

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