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EARTHKEEPER HERO:
MIKE BROWNE
by Amanda Molinaro from Irvine

Mike Browne (http://www.replacelead.com/index.shtml)

When Mike Browne went fishing as a child, he often wondered what happened to the lead weights he lost while fishing. His father, not knowing the answer, encouraged him to do some research. The answers Browne found shocked and angered him. Lost lead weights sink to the bottom of the pond, and lay among the stones. Waterfowl such as loons and trumpeter swans often swallow small stones to aid in digestions, and many mistake the lead weights for pebbles, inadvertently swallowing poison. Once the lead weight is swallowed and reaches their stomach it begins to dissolve, killing them in 2 3 weeks. Browne realized that lead weights had the potential to be an environmental disaster, and decided to do more research.

Every year, 480 million fishing weights are made, and roughly 3000 tons, or 98%, are made of lead. Approximately 1 fishing weight is lost every six hours per person fishing. Fish and waterfowl mistake the lead weights for pebbles and swallow them. The fish that die from lead poisoning are often eaten by other waterfowl or birds such as bald eagles, which in turn are poisoned by the lead weights that killed the fish. Lead poisoning causes a loss of balance and tremors, which make waterfowl more vulnerable to predators, and interferes with their ability to care for their young. About 52% of adult loon deaths, 25% of bald eagle deaths, and 31% of trumpeter swan deaths are due to lead poisoning. At least 25 different species of birds are affected by lead poisoning. Although some states are banning or restricting the use of lead weights, Browne knew it was not enough.

Mike Browne attending fishing derbies (http://www.replacelead.com/index.shtml)
Get the Lead Out of Fishing started as a small Eagle Scout project with two goals: collect and safely recycle 40 pounds of lead, and educate 500 anglers about the dangers of lead. Browne decided that the best way to accomplish this was going directly to the anglers, so he began contacting vendors, community groups, and fishing tackle manufacturers. With the funds and donations he acquired, he purchased materials and put together almost 800 lead-free fishing weight packages to hand out. He designed brochures and fliers, and with his team of Boy Scouts they began attending fishing derbies. They approached anglers, educated them about the dangers of lead, and convinced them to empty the lead weights out of their tackle boxes.

So far, Browne and his Boy Scouts have safely removed approximately 8,000-10,000 fishing weights, 65 pounds of lead, from the environment. They have spoken with almost 1000 anglers, and now attend local, national, and international events to promote awareness about the dangers of lead poisoning from lead fishing weights. Browne has surpassed his original goals for the project, and is asking the public to help him spread the word. It only takes a few small steps to effectively stop lead weights from polluting our environment. Most fishing gear stores stock lead-free fishing weights, which are a safer alternative to lead weights. Ask your local fishing gear store to stock lead alternatives if they are not already available. Tell fellow anglers about the dangers of lead, and ask them to empty lead weights from their tackle boxes. Properly dispose of the lead weights at a hazardous waste collection site. For those who want a more active role in protecting the wildlife from lead poisoning, they can contact Mike Brown for information on how to organize their own lead weight exchange program.



Written by Amanda Molinaro from Irvine
Last changed on: 8/2/2013 2:39:23 PM

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