Toxic PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ found in deer and fish prompt warnings


Toxic chemicals found in deer and fish are prompting health advisories in several parts of the country, especially warning hunters to avoid eating wild game.

Wildlife agencies have found high levels of PFAS – or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – that are often tabbed “forever chemicals” within deer in states including Michigan and Maine, where hunting buck this time of year is a regularity.  

PFAS are industrial compounds used in numerous products, such as nonstick cookware and clothing, and can negatively impact the environment. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched an effort last year to limit pollution from those chemicals because they’re linked to health problems such as cancer and low birth weight. In June, the EPA released new health advisories around PFAS in drinking water, too – and now over 20 states have proposed or adopted limits.

But discovery of the chemicals in wild animals hunted for sport and food represents a new challenge that some states have started to confront by issuing “do not eat” advisories for deer and fish and expanding testing for PFAS.

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

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a hunting and outdoors advocacy group, said the discovery of chemicals in animals could hinder outdoor tourism.

“If people are unwilling to hunt and fish, how are we going to manage those species?” he said. “You’re getting it in your water, you’re getting it in your food, you’re getting it in wild game.”

What are PFAS chemicals?

The chemicals get into the environment through production of consumer goods and waste. They also have been used in firefighting foam and in agriculture. PFAS-tainted sewage sludge has long been applied to fields as fertilizer and compost.

PFAS chemicals don’t degrade or do so slowly in the environment and can remain in a person’s bloodstream for life.

Maine, Michigan laws around ‘the forever chemicals’

Legislators in Maine passed a law in 2021 requiring manufacturers to report their use of the chemicals and to phase them out by 2030. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in September that bans the chemicals from cosmetics sold in the state. 

Michigan was the first state to assess PFAS in deer, according to Tammy Newcomb, senior executive assistant director for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The state has expanded testing that has helped authorities find out which areas don’t have a PFAS problem.

“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 and not the rule.”

Contributing: The Associated Press, Kyle Bagenstose.

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