EPA Sued After Denying Proposed Lead Tackle Ban

OCEAN CITY – Two weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied a petition seeking a ban on the use of lead in fishing tackle, a measure which, if approved, could have had serious impacts on Ocean City and other fishing communities, a coalition of environmental groups filed suit in U.S. District Court.

In August, a coalition of environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a formal petition with the EPA seeking a ban on the use of lead in all fishing tackle and hunting ammunition, citing the adverse impact on birds, mammals and aquatic creatures that indirectly consume the potentially dangerous and toxic metal. In September, the EPA denied the portion of the petition related to hunting ammunition but left open the section regarding fishing tackle for further review.

Earlier this month, the EPA denied the petition for a ban on the use of lead-based fishing tackle, pointing out the petitioners had not successfully presented scientific evidence of the need for such a ban. According to the original petition, an estimated 4,000 tons of lead fishing tackle is deposited or lost in the ocean, bays, rivers and streams each year, resulting in the death or illness of countless birds, fish and other wildlife. However, the statistics were not persuasive enough to convince the EPA to ban the use of lead fishing tackle.

“After careful review, EPA has determined you have not demonstrated that the remaining action requested in your petition- a uniform national ban of lead for all use in fishing gear- is necessary to protect against a reasonable risk of injury to health or the environment,” the letter reads. “The petition also does not demonstrate that the action requested is the least burdensome alternative to adequately protect against the concerns. Accordingly, EPA is denying your request for a national ban on lead in all fishing gear.”

This week, however, the same environmental groups that called for the ban filed suit in U.S. District Court against the EPA.

“The EPA has the ability to protect America’s wildlife from ongoing preventable lead poisoning, but continued to shirk its responsibility,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for CBD. “The EPA’s failure to act is astonishing given the mountain of scientific evidence about the dangers of lead to wildlife. There are already safe and available alternatives to lead products for fishing and the EPA can phase a changeover to nontoxic materials, so there is no reason to perpetuate the epidemic of lead poisoning of wildlife.”

The petitioners pointed out a nationwide effort to remove lead from other sources in recent years and opined removing lead from fishing tackle and hunting ammunition was the next logical step.

“Over the past several decades, Americans chose to get toxic lead out of our gasoline, paint, water pipes and other sources that were poisoning people,” said Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “Now it’s time to remove unnecessary lead from hunting and fishing sports that are needlessly poisoning our fish and wildlife. Today’s action is a step to safeguard wildlife and reduce human health risks posed by lead.”

The environmental groups called the EPA out for being hypocritical, pointing out the agency explored a similar ban as early as 1994.

“The EPA has known for years it has the authority to regulate lead,” said Miller this week. “Lead shot was eliminated in 1991 by federal regulation to address the widespread lead poisoning of ducks and the secondary poisoning of bald eagles. And in 1994, the EPA even proposed banning lead fishing weights that were being eaten by waterfowl.”

According to the EPA, there are already an increasing number of limitations on the use of lead in fishing gear on some federal lands as well as federal outreach efforts.

“The emergence of these programs and activities over the last decade calls into question whether the broad rulemaking requested in the petition would be the least burdensome, adequately protective approach,” the letter reads. “EPA also notes that the prevalence of non-lead alternatives in the marketplace continues to increase.”

While many anglers have already moved away from traditional lead tackle to non-lead alternatives, most have extensive collections of lead-based tackle they would have to dispose of if the ban was approved.

In addition, many of the area tackle shops continue to stock lead tackle that they would not be able to sell. For many reasons, the recreational and commercial fishing sectors have supported the EPA’s decision to deny the ban.

“We’re happy that the EPA has denied this lead ban petition,” said Recreational Fishing Alliance executive director Jim Donofrio this week. “There really was not justification for it to begin with. If this petition had moved forward, it could have had a devastating impact on our coastal fishing industry.”