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Wildlife agencies find elevated levels of ‘forever chemicals’ in fish and deer

The U.S. Wildlife Agency has discovered elevated levels of toxic chemicals in deer and other game animals. This prompts them to issue health advisories in areas where hunting and fishing are important aspects of their lives and economies.

Authorities discovered high levels of PFAS in deer in multiple states including Maine and Michigan. This is where legions hunt for a buck each fall. For their persistence in the environment, they are sometimes called “forever chemicals”, and can be found in many products such as clothing and nonstick cookware.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated an effort to reduce pollution from chemicals last year. These chemicals are linked to health problems such as cancer and low birth weight.

However, the discovery of chemicals in wild animals that are being hunted for food and sport is a new challenge. Some states have issued “do not eat” advisories for deer or fish and expanded testing for PFAS.

Jennifer Hill, the associate director of, the Great Lakes Regional Center of the National Wildlife Federation, stated that there is an additional threat to wildlife. “The game people are going to hunt and fish is a threat to those industries and to how people think about hunting or fishing.”

Public health and environmental agencies are increasingly focusing on PFAS chemicals. This is partly because they don’t degrade or slow down in the environment, and can stay in a person’s bloodstream for a lifetime.

Through the production of consumer goods or waste, chemicals can get into the environment. They have also been used in agriculture and firefighting foam. The application of PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge to fields has been a tradition.

Maine legislators passed a law in 2021 that required manufacturers to report any use of chemicals in their well water. The goal was to eliminate them by 2030. Advocates for environmental health have suggested that Maine’s law could serve as a model for other states. Some are currently working on their PFAS legislation.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat signed a September bill that banned the sale of chemicals in cosmetics in California. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 20 states have set or adopted limits on PFAS in their drinking water.

Further testing will reveal that the chemicals may be present in other game animals, including deer, according to David Trahan (executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine), a group dedicated to hunting and outdoor advocacy.

Trahan stated that the discovery could have a short-term negative effect on outdoor tourism. “If people don’t want to fish and hunt, how can we manage these species?” He said. He said, “You get it in your water, in your food, and wild game.”

Maine was the first state to detect PFAS deer. After several animals were found to have elevated levels, the state issued a “do-not-eat” advisory for deer that had been harvested in Fairfield, Maine, which is about 80 miles (129 km) north of Portland.

Nate Webb is the wildlife division director at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The state now offers testing to more animals in a larger area. He said that although lab capacity was difficult, he believes there will be more facilities to ease the burden in Maine and across the country.

Wisconsin tested ducks, deer, and geese for potential PFAS and issued a “do-not-eat” advisory for liver from deer around Marinette (about 55 miles (89 km) north of Green Bay). The state asked fishermen to limit their consumption of Lake Superior’s rainbow smelt to just one meal per month.

According to Wisconsin’s natural resources department, chemicals such as PFAS can build up in the liver because the organ filters out the blood. New Hampshire authorities also advised hunters to not eat deer liver.

Tammy Newcomb (senior executive assistant director, Michigan Department of Natural Resources) stated that Michigan was the first state in the country to evaluate PFAS in deer.

In 2018, the state issued its first “do-not-eat” advisory for deer taken near Oscoda Township. Since then, Michigan has issued an advisory against eating organs such as liver or kidneys from wild animals, including deer, fish, and any other state wildlife. It also examined waterfowl in the state’s PFAS-contaminated areas.

Newcomb stated that expanded testing by the state has been a success because it allowed authorities to determine which areas aren’t affected by PFAS.

“People love to throw up their hands and say they can’t change it. Newcomb stated, “I like to point out our results and claim that it’s not true.” “PFAS has not been identified as a contaminant of serious concern. This is the exception, not the norm.”

It has been detected in shellfish both recreationally and commercially caught. According to a study published in August, scientists from the Florida International University Institute of Environment tested more than 150 oysters across the state. They found PFAS in all of them. Natalia Soares Quinete is an assistant professor at the institute’s department of chemistry and biochemistry. She described the chemicals as “a poison that can last for years” and could be dangerous to human health.

Professor Leo Trasande of Pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, who has researched PFAS, stated that reducing exposure is the best way to prevent adverse health effects. Trasande stated that it is difficult to reduce exposure because chemicals are commonplace and last a long time in the environment.

He said, “If it’s happening in humans, then you’re most likely going to be seeing the effects in animals.”

The presence of PFAS has been made known to hunters by wildlife authorities who have posted signs in hunting areas and advisories on the internet. Michigan’s sign stated that PFAS could be dangerous to your health and may be present in high levels of deer.

A chief conservation officer of the National Deer Association Kip Adams stated that the discovery of PFASs in states such as Maine and Michigan is extremely concerning for hunters.

Adams stated, “With the amount of venison my family consumes, it’s hard to imagine not being in a position to do so.” “To date, all we have done was share information and make sure everyone is aware.”

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