SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Environmentalists are pushing legislation to ban lead ammunition in California to prevent toxins from poisoning scavengers that eat animal remains left by hunters.
Final language of the bill was introduced Monday by Assembly Member Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, who said the legislation would remove a lingering source of pollution from the environment. It was sponsored by three major environmental groups — Defenders of Wildlife, Audubon California, and the Humane Society of the United States.
"There really is no question that lead ammo is a threat," said Kim Delfino of Defenders of Wildlife. "To pass a bill in California would set the stage for this happening throughout the country, the way low-emissions vehicle standards changed the market nationwide."
Lead is a neurotoxin that has thwarted efforts to restore endangered California condors to their historic habitat. It's the major cause of death for condors and affects other scavengers such as bald eagles, golden eagles and turkey vultures.
Opponents of restrictions on ammunition purchases argue that animals that suffer from lead poisoning could be getting it from another source. They cite the fact that incidences of poisoning have not declined despite a ban since 2008 on the use of lead ammunition in the eight-county area where condor recovery is under way.
The National Rifle Association has opposed all bans on lead ammo in the past. The gun rights group has dismissed studies from the University of California, Davis and the University of California, Santa Cruz that show poisonings of birds of prey are highest during hunting seasons and that the lead isotopes in their bloodstreams match ammunition. The NRA says those studies are flawed.
NRA officials did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment on the new bill.
Studies have shown that nonlead ammunition fires as accurately, but in some calibers it is more expensive than bullets made of lead. Proponents of the ban argue that as nonlead ammo becomes more popular with hunters, the prices will continue to decrease.
The bill comes as a subcommittee of the California Fish and Game Commission is studying whether to institute a ban statewide.
"The commission has looked at the lead issue for years," said Michael Sutton, the department's president. "Should we ban it on state lands, ecological areas and preserves? For all hunting statewide? I'm not going to hazard a guess as to what the commission will do."
Bill supporters, including pediatrician Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, say lead shot in animals consumed by humans is a public health issue because it puts children at risk of brain damage.
"We don't have to choose between hunting and protecting wildlife," said Jennifer Fearing of the Humane Society of the United States. "Removing lead from the environment isn't just good science. It's also the right thing to do."