Lawmakers in California are considering the first statewide ban against hunting with lead bullets, after health and environmental groups raised concerns over the effects of lead on both humans and animals.
"We may see three to four golden eagles a year with lead poisoning. We see a fair number of turkey vultures with lead poisoning," veterinarian Vicki Joseph of the The Bird and Pet Clinic in Roseville, Calif., told ABC News 10. "Usually, it's by eating prey species that have lead shot in them."
In November, one of the oldest condors in Central California died from lead poisoning. The 9-year-old condor was one of the first released from The Ventana Wildlife Society, a conservatory working to return it to the wild. A forensic team determined the condor was not shot, but rather had eaten meat that contained lead. Lead bullet fragments and a .22 caliber slug were found in its gullet.
Healthcare advocates say there is reason to believe traces of lead in hunted game can contain neurotoxins harmful to children and developing fetuses.
"There is no safe level of lead for human consumption," said state Assemblyman Anthony Rendon.
Lead bullets are already prohibited in hunting in eight counties which are home to the endangered California condor. Other states have partial bans, usually in areas containing endangered species, but none have a statewide ban.
The Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee passed the bill 9-5. Now it will go to the appropriations committee, then the Democrat-majority legislature.
Gun advocacy groups like the National Rifle Asocciation say that banning lead bullets will lead California down the path to more gun control and eventually the end of hunting throughout the state.
Ryan Bronson of the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Minnesota, an opponent of the bill, says 95 percent of bullets use lead slugs.
"We have regulatory uncertainty," Bronson said. "The potential exists for a de facto ammunition ban."
Bronson claims there is not enough evidence that lead is causing the death of a significant amount of wildlife other than the condor.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey there are about 400,000 pieces of lead shot per acre in wild game areas that can be eaten or washed into waterways.
After a 2008 study The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and North Dakota Department of Public Health recommended that pregnant woman and children never eat meat harvested through hunting because the presence of lead in the food is so prevalent.