EPA Vic failed to act on public LEAD POISONING RISKS across Victoria, Minister’s Office evaded question

Freckled-duck_courtesy-Eleanor-Dilley

DOCUMENTS RECENTLY OBTAINED through FOI (Freedom of Information), show lead levels in ducks “well above” food safety guidelines, at four of 23 public (duck shooting) waterways around Victoria: Serpentines Creek (Western Vic), Richardson’s Lagoon (North), Heart Morass and Macleod Morass (Gippsland).

The extent of the contaminated ducks across the state is likely to be far greater because only four of eight ‘game’ duck species were tested, and only at a small number of waterways. There are thousands of public lakes, streams, creeks, rivers, reservoirs and wetlands around Victoria where duck shooting is allowed. And ducks fly.

ABOVE: Freckled Duck, courtesy Eleanor Dilley.

Lead ammunition was banned in duck shooting but is still illegally used as is reported most years. It is also used legally in native Stubble Quail shooting, including at Macleod Morass and Heart Morass, (which is understood to be protected under a Trust for Nature Covenant). Each shotgun lead cartridge holds hundreds of lead pellets. Few strike the target. The rest fall into the sediments where waterbirds pick them up, mistaking them for grit (which they use to grind their food), posing the risk of poisoning themselves, and those who eat them. This includes people and secondary predators like protected eagles. Lead fragments can remain in ducks which are hit but not killed by a shotgun blast.

Medics have long warned that lead is highly toxic to people and animals, even in tiny traces. In 2018, the CSIRO published a scathing report on Australia’s apathy towards lead ammunition.

The documents obtained by FOI show EPA grappling with what to do. One assessment says “data was too limited to make any conclusions” with another showing an EPA manager contradicting that; “Isn’t it clear?” Tests were repeated and results described as “not an error”.

Lead warnings have never been issued — not even precautionary advice since testing first identified the issue in 2018. The fact lead was found in ducks at shooting waterways across the state, has been kept from the public.

Only a few inconsistent warnings have been issued about consuming ducks at a handful of wetlands in Gippsland due to PFAS which is a different substance.

In response to a Question on Notice June 2021 (#3821), which asked directly about lead in ducks at Heart Morass and MacLeod Morass, the Minister for Agriculture (now Minister for Health) said her department was “not aware of any publicly available studies of lead levels in ducks at Heart Morass or Macleod Morass”.

Ministers have allowed four recreational duck (and quail) shooting seasons to take place since the lead issue was identified.

The Documents were obtained by not-for-profit group Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting inc.

Recreational duck shooting is banned in QLD, ACT, NSW and WA. In Victoria, less than half of one percent of the population shoot ducks, while ongoing professional polls show most Victorians want it banned here too, with the strongest support for a ban coming from regional areas (UComms 2021).

Sue Williams — Project Manager, Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting inc — had this to say:

The danger to our wildlife and human populations of toxic lead ammunition, is just another reason why Victoria needs to ban the recreational shooting of ducks and quail as other states have done.

“The fact that ducks were found to have toxic lead levels outside food safety guidelines in about 20% of a small number of wetlands surveyed, and that ducks fly, suggests this danger is frighteningly widespread.

“It is simply unfathomable that the government has not issued any public warnings about the lead levels found in ducks across our state. Four recreational duck and quail shooting seasons have been allowed to proceed since the lead levels were first identified.

“We are disappointed it took a not-for-profit group to bring awareness of these matters to Victorians. Government agencies are paid millions to keep Victorians and our protected wildlife safe. We seem to be doing their job here.

“It’s disappointing EPA are saying more ducks must be killed in yet another shooting season to enable more testing, when studies performed overseas, and now here, are unambiguous. Any further shooting — particularly with lead ammunition — risks the health of people and protected wildlife. When will the Victorian government just tell bird shooters “no”?


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