Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Data and Conclusions

I read an article on MSNBC that said people eating wild game that had been shot with lead bullets are more likely to have higher lead blood levels. But not a word is given to how the study was conducted. Did they compare blood samples of the subjects prior to eating game and after eating game? Or did they just compare blood samples of hunters and eaters of all things wild and hairy to a control group? If they did the latter, they have a slight problem.

Hunters are probably exposed to lead more than the average person. They handle lead bullets, they clean their gun barrels that are dirty with burnt gunpowder, lead dust, and copper fouling, they might even make their own bullets and ammunition. And, even if this wasn't enough, another story on the same site goes on to say that "Copper or copper-jacketed bullets fragmented less than bullets designed to mushroom quickly," and reduced the actual spread of lead.

There's just one thing absolutely wrong. Most bullets are designed to mushroom quickly. And most of these bullets are copper-jacketed so that they retain a large amount of their weight, which translates: the bullet expands but stays mostly intact, lead and all. There probably is lead remaining in some of the meat from the expansion of the bullet and the lead brushing off into the muscle. But it's likely limited, as the study shows, to the area where the animal was shot, and even if the bullet did expand out to the 18 inches as claimed as the extreme in the report, bone would stop the fragments which would remain in the offal.

As for the bullets that explode into tiny fragments? I've only heard of that happening to magnum calibers fired at a short range (which magnums aren't intended to do) where the bullet doesn't penetrate effectively, but literally explodes and leaves a shallow wound on the animal. Nasty stuff indeed.

So, as my old Epidemiology professor famously once said, "So now that we have all this data, what does it mean? Well, nothing really." And I think that sums up this report nicely.
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