U.S. wildlife agencies are uncovering elevated levels of PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances), toxic chemicals known as “forever chemicals,” in-game animals like deer. This discovery has led to health advisories in regions where hunting and fishing are integral to both lifestyle and the economy. PFAS, widely used in products like nonstick cookware and clothing, is associated with health issues, including cancer and low birth weight.
Efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to limit PFAS pollution were initiated last year. However, the detection of these chemicals in game animals presents a new challenge, prompting some states to issue “do not eat” advisories for deer and fish and expand PFAS testing in these species.
The persistence of PFAS in the environment, coupled with their slow degradation and lifelong presence in the bloodstream, has raised concerns. The chemicals enter the environment through consumer goods production, waste, firefighting foam, and agriculture, including the application of PFAS-tainted sewage sludge as fertilizer.
Maine, where PFAS was found in well water at levels hundreds of times the federal health advisory level, passed a law in 2021 requiring manufacturers to report PFAS use and phase them out by 2030. Other states are also working on PFAS legislation.
As PFAS testing expands, it’s likely to reveal the presence of these chemicals in other game animals, potentially impacting outdoor tourism. David Trahan, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, expressed concern about managing species if people refrain from hunting and fishing due to PFAS contamination in water and food.
States like Maine issued “do not eat” advisories for deer after detecting elevated PFAS levels. Expanded testing is underway, facing challenges due to limited lab capacity. Wisconsin has issued similar advisories for deer and fish, and other states have proposed or adopted PFAS limits in drinking water.
The impact on outdoor tourism could be significant in the short term, affecting the hunting and fishing industries. Wildlife authorities are informing hunters about PFAS presence through signs in hunting areas, social media, and the internet. The National Deer Association is actively sharing information, recognizing the potential concern for hunters who rely on venison as a significant food source.