The Environmental Protection Agency has 90 days to respond to a petition seeking a ban on the use of lead in ammunition used in hunting as well as that used in fishing tackle.

The petition, submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Bird Conservancy, seeks to prevent the poisoning of birds beyond what is shot by hunters.

The ban is being sought under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates dangerous chemicals in the United States.

"They've got 90 days to respond to the petition," said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The petition was immediately criticized by the trade group, National Shooting Sports Foundation.

"There is simply no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having an adverse impact on wildlife populations that would require restricting or banning the use of traditional ammunition beyond current limitations, such as the scientifically based restriction on waterfowl hunting," NSSF President Steve Sanetti said in a statement.

ATK Security and Sporting, maker of Federal Premium Ammunition, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Miller said the petition is not urging a complete ban on the use of lead in ammunition, just what will ultimately be scattered about in the wild, available to wildlife. He said the groups are supporting exceptions for home defense and non-hunting activities, such as shooting ranges.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1991 banned the use of lead shot in waterfowl hunting. It was estimated that somewhere between 1.6 to 3.9 million waterfowl died annually as a result of lead poisoning.

And the threat isn't just for wildlife, Miller said. There's also the threat to humans, through the lead that remains in animals killed with lead ammunition.

All told, Miller said the notion is that nearly 3,000 tons of lead is spread through ammunition used in hunting and another 4,000 tons of lead fishing sinkers that are lost. Nearly 80,000 tons of lead are used in shooting ranges.

It's estimated that somewhere between 10 and 20 million animals die each year from lead poisoning, as lead-tainted carcasses are scavenged or picked up as either food or grit.

If the EPA adopts the petition, the ban would be put up for public comment.