(Portland, Maine) — U.S. wildlife agencies are detecting elevated levels of a class of chemicals in hunting animals such as deer — spurring health guidance in some places where hunting and fishing are ways of life and essential elements of the economy.
Authorities have detected elevated levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in deer in several states, including Michigan and Maine, where legions of hunters seek to carry the snake each fall. Sometimes called “forever chemicals” because of their stability in the environment, they are industrial compounds that are used in many products, such as nonstick cookware and clothing.
The US Environmental Protection Agency launched an effort last year to reduce pollution from chemicals linked to health problems including cancer and low birth weight.
But discovering the chemicals in wild animals hunted for sport and food presents a new challenge that some states are beginning to meet by issuing “don’t eat” warnings to deer and fish and expanding their PFAS testing.
said Jennifer Hill, co-director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center.
PFAS chemicals are a growing focus from public health and environmental agencies, in part because they do not degrade or degrade slowly in the environment and can remain in a person’s bloodstream for life.
Chemicals enter the environment through the production of consumer goods and waste. It was also used in firefighting and agriculture. PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge has long been used in fields as fertilizer and fertilizer.
In Maine, where chemicals have been detected in well water hundreds of times the federal health advisory level, lawmakers passed a law in 2021 requiring manufacturers to report their use of chemicals and phase them out by 2030. Environmental health advocates said Maine could The law is a model for other states, some of which are working on their own PFAS legislation.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill in September that would ban chemicals from cosmetics sold in the state. More than 20 states have proposed or adopted limits for PFAS in drinking water, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
David Trahan, CEO of Maine Sports AllianceIt is an advocacy group for hunting and the outdoors.
Trahan said that this discovery may have a negative impact on foreign tourism in the short term. “If people are unwilling to hunt and hunt, how will we manage these species?” He said. “You get it in your water, you get it in your food, you get it in a wild game.”
Maine was one of the first states to discover PFAS in deer. The state issued a “don’t eat” advice last year to deer harvested in the Fairfield area, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Portland, after several animals tested positive for elevated levels.
Nate Webb, director of the wildlife division for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the state is now expanding testing to include more animals across a wider area. “Laboratory capacity has been challenging, but I suspect there will be more facilities coming online to help ease that burden — in Maine and elsewhere in the country,” he said.
Wisconsin tested deer, ducks, and geese for PFAS, and as a result issued a “don’t eat” advice for deer livers around Marinette, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of Green Bay. The state has also asked fishermen to reduce consumption of Lake Superior’s famous rainbow scent to one meal per month.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told fishermen that some chemicals, including PFAS, can build up in the liver over time because the organ filters chemicals from the blood. New Hampshire authorities have also issued advice to avoid consuming deer liver.
Michigan was the first state to establish PFAS in deer, said Tami Newcomb, executive assistant director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The state issued its first “don’t eat” advisory in 2018 for deer taken in and near the town of Uskuda. Michigan has since issued a warning against ingesting organs, such as liver and kidneys, from deer, fish or any other wild game anywhere in the state. Waterfowl have also been studied across the state in areas of surface water contamination from PFAS.
Newcomb said the state’s expanded testing has also proven useful as it has helped authorities figure out which areas don’t have a PFAS problem.
“People like to put their arms up and say we can’t do anything about it. I like to point to our results and say it’s not true,” Newcomb said. “Finding PFAS as a contaminant of concern was the exception rather than the rule.”
The chemical is also found in oysters collected for recreational and commercial purposes. Scientists from Florida International University’s Environmental Institute sampled more than 150 shellfish from across the state and detected PFAS in each, according to their August study. Natalia Soares Quinet, assistant professor in the institute’s department of chemistry and biochemistry, described the chemicals as a “long-acting poison” that threatens human health.
The best way to avoid negative health effects is to reduce exposure, said Dr. Leo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine who has studied PFAS. But, Trasande said it’s hard to do because the chemicals are so common and long-lived in the environment.
“If you see that in humans, you can probably see the effects in animals,” he said.
Wildlife authorities have attempted to inform poachers of the presence of PFAS in deer with signs hanging in hunting areas as well as warnings on social media and the internet. One such sign, in Michigan, told hunters that large amounts of PFAS “can be found in deer and can be harmful to your health.”
Kip Adams, chief conservation officer for the National Deer Association, said the discovery of PFAS in states like Maine and Michigan is deeply concerning to hunters.
“With the amount of venison my family eats, I can’t imagine not being able to do that,” Adams said. “Up until this point, all we’ve done has been about sharing information and making sure people are aware of it.”
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