‘Chemicals forever’ pose challenges to tourism and hunting across the country

PORTLAND, Maine – Wildlife agencies across the United States are finding high levels of a class of toxic chemicals in game like deer – and it’s triggering health advisories in some places where hunting and fishing are lifestyles and key elements of the economy.

Authorities have detected high levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in deer in several states, including Michigan and Maine, where legions of hunters seek to make a buck each fall. Sometimes called “eternal chemicals” because of their persistence in the environment, PFAS are industrial compounds used in many products, such as cookware and non-stick clothing.

The US Environmental Protection Agency launched an effort last year to limit chemical pollution, which is linked to health problems including cancer and low birth weight.

But the discovery of the chemicals in wild animals hunted for sport and food represents a new challenge that some states have begun to address by issuing ‘do not eat’ advisories for deer and fish and expanding testing. screening for PFAS.

“The fact that there is an additional threat to wildlife – the game that people go to hunt and fish for – is a threat to these industries and the way people think about hunting and fishing,” Hill said. , associate director of the Great Lakes Regional Center for the National Wildlife Federation.

PFAS chemicals are coming under increasing scrutiny from public health and environmental agencies, in part because they do not break down or do so slowly in the environment and can remain in the bloodstream from person to person. life.

Chemicals enter the environment through the production of consumer goods and waste. They have also been used in fire fighting foam and in agriculture. PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge has long been applied to fields as fertilizer and compost.

In Maine, where the 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 their use of the products. chemicals and phase them out by 2030. Environmental health advocates said Maine’s law could be a model for other states, some working on their own PFAS legislation.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill 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 will likely find the chemicals are present in game other than deer, such as wild turkeys and fish, said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, an advocacy group. hunting and the outdoors.

The discovery could have a negative impact on outdoor tourism in the short term, Trahan said. “If people don’t want to hunt and fish, how are we going to manage these species?” he said. “You get it in your water, you get it in your food, you get it in wild game.”

Maine was one of the first states to detect PFAS in deer. The state last year issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer harvested from the Fairfield area, about 129 miles north of Portland, after several of the animals tested positive for high levels.

The state is now expanding testing to more animals in a wider area, said Nate Webb, wildlife division director with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “Lab capacity has been tough,” he said, “but I suspect more facilities will come online to help ease that burden — in Maine and elsewhere around the country.”

Wisconsin has tested deer, ducks and geese for PFAS and as a result issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer liver around Marinette, about 89 kilometers north of Green Bay. The state has also asked anglers to reduce their consumption of Lake Superior’s popular rainbow smelt to one meal per month.

Certain 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 hunters. New Hampshire authorities have also issued an advisory to avoid consuming deer liver.

Michigan was the first state to assess PFAS in deer, said Tammy Newcomb, senior executive assistant director for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The state issued its first “do not eat” advisory in 2018 for deer captured in and near Oscoda Township. Michigan has since issued an advisory against the consumption of organs, such as liver and kidney, from deer, fish or any other wild game anywhere in the state. He also studied waterfowl statewide in areas of surface water contamination by PFAS.

The state’s extensive testing has also proven beneficial because it has helped officials determine areas that don’t have a PFAS problem, Newcomb said.

“People like to throw up their hands and say there’s nothing we can do about it. I like to point out our results and say that’s not true,” Newcomb said. “The discovery of PFAS as a contaminant of concern was the exception, not the rule.”

The chemical has also been found in shellfish that are collected recreationally and commercially. Scientists at Florida International University’s Environmental Institute sampled more than 150 oysters from across the state and detected PFAS in each one, according to their study in August. Natalia Soares Quinete, an assistant professor in the institute’s department of chemistry and biochemistry, 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 it’s hard to do because the chemicals are so common and long-lasting in the environment.

“If you see it in humans, you’re probably going to see the effects in animals,” he said.

Wildlife authorities have attempted to notify 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 harmful to your health.”

Kip Adams, conservation manager for the National Deer Association, said the discovery of PFAS in states like Maine and Michigan is of serious concern to hunters.

“With the amount of venison my family eats, I can’t imagine not being able to do that,” Adams said. “So far all we’ve done has been to share information and make sure people are aware of it.”

History of Patrick Whittle