UK REACH set to ban lead ammunition

Lead ammunition is set to be subject to the first restriction under the UK REACH chemicals regime, with PFAS and certain tattoo inks expected to follow.

DEFRA made the announcement today, stating that lead ammunition, which is used widely in the shooting industry, “causes harm to the environment, wildlife and people”. An official review by the Environment Agency (EA) and Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will now commence, leading to a public consultation in due course.

Its use in foreshores, specified sites of scientific interest, and for the shooting of ducks, geese, coots and moorhens have been prohibited for more than two decades, under the Environmental Protection (Restriction on the use of Lead Ammunition) (England) Regulations 1999. The proposed restriction would extend this to the whole of England, Scotland and Wales.

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment. This is a welcome development for our new chemicals framework, and will help ensure a sustainable relationship between shooting and conservation.”

Julia Newth, ecosystem health & social dimensions manager at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) said: “Conservationists, including WWT, shooting organisations and game meat retailers have recognised the toxic risks from lead ammunition to people and the environment. Regulation of its use in all shooting, wherever this may happen, is very much needed as soon as possible to protect human and animal health and to enable us to move towards a greener and safer future.”

But Conor O’Gorman, head of policy and campaigns at the ‎British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said that, “Firstly, there are no immediate changes on the horizon.  Any restrictions that do come into force will very likely be after the end of the five year voluntary transition away from lead shot announced by the shooting organisations over a year ago. Further restrictions on lead ammunition must not be imposed until effective and affordable types of sustainable ammunition are available in sufficient volumes to meet demand.”

But a statement from the the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust said that 20% of respondents to a survey had already started testing alternatives to lead, such as steel and bismuth.

"If government wishes to speed up the transition, it might consider an amnesty scheme for those stuck with a supply of lead cartridges. Recycling lead is energy-efficient and conserves natural resources, so it’s worth some thought," said its director of policy, Alistair Leake.

Once the review concludes, the government would then need to consider its options, consult and enact legislation, he added. O’Gorman also noted that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) proposed a similar restriction under EU REACH last month, a regime that remains in force in Northern Ireland. It would have an impact on Great Britain as the continent is the main market for game shot in the UK.

ECHA justified its proposal by citing the estimated 127 million birds put at risk of lead poisoning every year across the EU. People are also exposed through game killed with lead shot or during the manufacture of ammunition, sinkers and lures at home, it said, leading to detectable loss of IQ in about 7,000 children across the bloc. Exposure to lead can also make birds more vulnerable to disease.

The EU plan also includes restriction on lead fishing tackle, which has been subject to a partial ban here since the 1980s.

The other plans for restrictions under UK REACH also ape its EU progenitor. An EU Regulation setting an effective blanket ban on the use of carcinogenic, skin sensitising, reprotoxic substances in tattoo inks, alongside more generous but still low concentration limits on various organic pigments and metals, was agreed late last year.

A similar restriction will be introduced in Great Britain “if evidence shows an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment, and after a public consultation” said a statement from DEFRA.

The EA and HSE have also been instructed to investigate the risks presented by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a diverse group often dubbed “forever chemicals” due to their extreme persistence. Evidence of their toxicity has grown larger with every passing year.

All use of them, other than those “proven essential for society”, are set to be phased out in the EU under the European Commission’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, published in October. Member states endorsed “the need to ensure they are eliminated” last week.

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