By PATRICK WHITTLE Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — U.S. wildlife agencies are finding elevated levels of a class of toxic chemicals in game animals like deer, prompting health warnings in some places where game and fishing are ways of life and key parts of the economy.
Authorities have detected high levels of PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in deer in several states, including Michigan and Maine, where legions of hunters seek to catch a deer each fall. Sometimes called “forever chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment, PFAS are industrial compounds used in numerous products, such as nonstick cookware and clothing.
The US Environmental Protection Agency launched an effort last year to limit pollution from the chemicals, which are linked to health problems like cancer and low birth weight.
But the discovery of the chemicals in wild animals hunted for sport and food presents a new challenge that some states have begun to address by issuing “do not eat” notices for deer and fish and expanding PFAS testing on them.
“The fact that there is an additional threat to wildlife, the game that people go hunting and fishing, is a threat to those industries and to the way people think about hunting and fishing,” he said. Jennifer Hill, associate director of the Great Lakes Regional Center for the National Wildlife Federation.
PFAS chemicals are a growing focus of public health and environmental agencies, in part because they do not degrade or do so 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. They have also been used in firefighting foams and in agriculture. PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge has long been applied to fields as fertilizer and compost.
In Maine, where chemicals have been detected in well water at hundreds of times the federal health advisory level, lawmakers passed a law in 2021 requiring manufacturers to report use of the chemicals and dispose of them gradually by 2030. Environmental health advocates have said Maine’s law could be a model for other states, some working on their own PFAS legislation.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill into law in September that bans chemicals from cosmetics sold in the state. And more than 20 states have proposed or adopted limits for PFAS in drinking water, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Further testing is likely to find that the chemicals are present in game animals other than deer, such as wild turkeys and fish, said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a hunting and hunting advocacy group. fresh air.
The discovery could have a negative impact on outdoor tourism in the short term, Trahan said. “If people are not willing to hunt and fish, how are we going to manage those species?” he said. “You get it in your water, you get it in your food, you get it in the wild game.”
Maine was one of the first states to detect PFAS in deer. The state issued a “do not eat” advisory last year for deer caught in the Fairfield area, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Portland, after several of the animals tested positive for elevated levels.
The state is now expanding testing to more animals over a broader area, said Nate Webb, director of the wildlife division of the Maine Interior Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Lab capacity has been a challenge,” he said, “but I suspect there will be more facilities coming online to help ease that burden, in Maine and in other parts of the country.”
Wisconsin has tested for PFAS on deer, ducks and geese and, as a result, issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer liver around Marinette, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of Green Bay. The state also asked fishermen to reduce their consumption of Lake Superior’s popular rainbow scent to one meal a month.
Some chemicals, including PFAS, can build up in the liver over time because the organ filters chemicals from the blood, the Wisconsin department of natural resources told the hunters. New Hampshire authorities also issued an advisory to avoid consuming venison liver.
Michigan was the first state to test PFAS in deer, said Tammy Newcomb, senior deputy executive director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The state issued its first “no eating” notice in 2018 for deer taken in and around Oscoda Township. Since then, Michigan has issued an advisory against consuming organs, such as liver and kidneys, from deer, fish, or any other wild game anywhere in the state. It has also studied waterfowl statewide in areas of surface water contamination with PFAS. .
The state’s expanded testing has also proven beneficial because it helped authorities find out which areas don’t have a PFAS problem, Newcomb said.
“People like to throw up their arms and say we can’t do anything about it. I like to point to our results and say that’s not true,” Newcomb said. “Finding PFAS as a contaminant of concern has been the exception rather than the rule.”
The chemical has also been found in shellfish that are harvested for recreational and commercial purposes. Scientists at Florida International University’s Environment Institute sampled more than 150 oysters from across the state and detected PFAS in each one, according to their August study. Natalia Soares Quinete, an assistant professor in the institute’s chemistry and biochemistry department, described the chemicals as “a long-term poison” that endangers human health.
Dr. Leo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine who has studied PFAS, said the best way to avoid negative health effects is to reduce exposure. But Trasande said that’s hard to do because the chemicals are so common and long-lasting in the environment.
“If you’re looking at it in humans, you’re likely to see the effects in animals,” he said.
Wildlife authorities have tried to inform hunters of the presence of PFAS in deer with signs posted in hunting areas, as well as notices on social media and the Internet. One such sign, in Michigan, told hunters that large amounts of PFAS “can be found in deer and could be detrimental to their health.”
Kip Adams, director of conservation for the National Deer Association, said the discovery of PFAS in states like Maine and Michigan is of great concern to hunters.
“With the amount of venison my family eats, I can’t imagine not being able to do that,” Adams said. “Until now, all we’ve done has been sharing information and making sure people are aware.”
Follow Patrick Whittle on Twitter: @pxwhittle
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