Lead in the environment may pose a health threat to people who are exposed to it. This threat can exist at active and inactive ranges where lead is left to accumulate. Lead dissolves in groundwater and surface water that people and wildlife drink, and dust particles from lead shot may be inhaled. Low lead levels can affect learning and development. Higher levels damage kidneys, nerves, blood, and the digestive system.
Lead can be poisonous. Wildlife can be poisoned by lead from swallowing lead shot while feeding. Small mammals and birds of prey can be poisoned by lead in soil and through the food chain. When an animal ingests lead, it enters the bloodstream and damages vital organs. If a bird swallows as few as six pellets, it will likely die in a few days from acute lead poisoning. If a bird swallows a smaller number of pellets, it may die a gradual death from starvation because the digestive system becomes paralyzed (chronic lead poisoning).
This paper summarizes information related to assessing ecological effects of lead and lead shot pellets from shooting practice ranges in Massachusetts.