Extensive wildlife testing for PFAS could lead to more ‘do not eat’ advisories

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Nearly eight months after the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued a ‘do not eat’ advisory for deer harvested in Fairfield due to the presence of so-called everlasting chemicals, the department will return to the area .

In the coming weeks, DIF&W will be testing deer, wild turkeys and other animals such as ruffed grouse, waterfowl, snowshoe hares and squirrels in an extended area over 5 miles from what is the ground zero of PFAS contamination in Maine to better assess the level of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS.

The additional wildlife testing – believed to be the most extensive ever conducted in the country – could result in consumption advisories for other game, or could determine that animals living farther from the sludge spreading sites are not contaminated. by PFAS. This information will also help DIF&W determine the need for potential “do not eat” warnings as they test wildlife in up to 20 more locations through the end of the year.

Nate Webb, wildlife division director for DIF&W, said the department’s efforts will include more extensive testing of wildlife in and around Fairfield, even as it begins sampling animals in other locations. identified as PFAS hotspots by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Because treating PFAS in game and birds is a relatively new area, Maine’s planned testing could be among the most extensive in the nation.

“What we’re planning for this summer, as far as we’ve been able to tell, will be the largest wildlife sampling effort ever,” Webb said. “So we’re really reading and writing the script in a lot of ways.”

Initial sampling in the area included only eight deer, five of which had elevated levels of PFAS. The state responded with a conservative consumption advisory that encompassed an area that took into account the normal movement patterns of animals.

DIF&W harvested and tested 11 turkeys last spring, but determined that lower levels of PFAS and the small amount of meat people would eat did not warrant restrictions.

“We want to get a better idea of ​​the true extent of the problem and update this advisory as necessary to reflect more and better information,” Webb said. “We will also do limited sampling of other species to see how widespread the problem is among species.”

The bigger concern is how PFAS affect humans, rather than what the chemicals might do to wildlife and fish. These studies are likely to come later.

The second, more substantial wildlife sampling in Greater Fairfield will serve as a precursor to upcoming testing at other sites where DEP has found PFAS in soil and groundwater. Webb said DIF&W hopes to test wildlife in as many as 20 more locations through the end of the year.

“A lot of them are in central and southern Maine,” said Webb, who doesn’t yet know which specific sites will be visited.

Testing at other sites will be more limited in scope, but sufficient to determine if a PFAS problem in wildlife may exist.

“We’re hoping we’re not going to find the same levels of contamination in wildlife in other places, but we don’t really know,” Webb said.

In conjunction with its enhanced testing program, DIF&W is in the process of hiring a new member of staff. The Wildlife Health Biologist will be responsible for overseeing activities related to PFAS and other contaminants.

“The focus will be on coordinating all of our agency’s PFAS and wildlife efforts and we hope this individual will also have time in their work plan to coordinate the surveillance, tracking and management of wildlife diseases. wildlife for the agency,” Webb said.

The job was created with supplementary state budget funds following the discovery of PFAS in deer last fall, he said. In addition to the PFAS study, the new biologist is expected to help DIF&W monitor other wildlife diseases such as avian flu, rabies and chronic wasting disease.

The US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services will again be responsible for killing and taking samples from the animals, with the assistance of DIF&W employees. Webb noted the importance of having the cooperation of local landowners, who provided access to their property.

“We don’t hunt. This is a sampling effort,” Webb said. “We use different methods and it’s not during the regular hunting season. We must be sensitive to their needs. »

Webb said tissue samples from harvested animals still need to be sent to out-of-state labs for testing and it will take several weeks to know the results.

DIF&W hopes to have the PFAS test results in the Fairfield area, and hopefully several others, in time to issue the necessary consumption warnings before the start of the regular bow and crossbow hunting season. in October.

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