As the biathlon gets attention at the Sochi games, a biologist from the University of Guelph wants to bring attention to a source of pollution that might otherwise go under-the-radar.
Vernon Thomas, a professor of integrative biology, calls for the International Olympic Committee to ban the use of lead shot in a paper published in the current issue of Environmental Policy and Law. Lead shots are a source of pollution that can negatively impact waterways, birds and animals.
During the Olympic games themselves, the lead shot is collected from targets and recycled. "The real concern is the amount of shot released during the four-year interval by the many hopefuls in each country and the Olympic team members of each country who practice assiduously with over 1,000 shots per week," said Thomas in a statement. "This lead shot – many tons – is rarely recovered and poses real toxic risks to wildlife that may ingest it and to groundwater quality."
Currently, lead is the only shot material approved by the International Shooting Sport Federation, which oversees Olympic shooting events. Non-toxic alternatives, like steel shot, have been available for about 20 years. Thomas writes that if the Olympic Committee banned lead, qualifying events would follow suit and shooters would make the switch.
Waterfowl are particularly vulnerable to this type of poisoning, as an estimated four percent of the aquatic birds in the U.S. die each year from ingesting lead shot. Waterfowl hunters have been banned from using lead shot since 1991 in the United States, and since 1999 in Canada.