Read the full article by Kaitlyn Budion (Portland Press Herald)
“With the fall hunting season in full swing across Maine, state agencies are working to expand testing for the presence of ‘forever chemicals’ in fish and wildlife with the intention of using expansive testing in Fairfield as a guide for future assessments around the state.
Hunters are faced with new state advisories as to what is safe to hunt and eat, and where it is safe to do so. But even as state agencies work to ramp up testing efforts for forever chemicals, also known as PFAS, in fish and wildlife, their efforts are slowed by a lack of labs with the capability to test animal tissue and organs.
Part of the strategy when it comes to testing wildlife is to use Fairfield as almost a case study to guide future testing in other areas, according to Nathan Webb, director of the wildlife division of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. For example, if the department does significant testing of deer and turkeys in Fairfield, and finds high levels of PFAS in deer and low levels in turkeys, the department can say that deer are more likely to have dangerous levels of the contaminants.
So when the department begins testing in another town, officials know to prioritize deer testing, not turkeys. And that information can be helpful when considering how little is known about PFAS in general and the scale of the contamination in Maine, Webb said.
‘Our goal is to use Fairfield to better understand, essentially, the scope of the issue,’ Webb said. ‘So in other words, better understand which species may be impacted and the geographic extent of those impacts, so that we will not need to do the same level of sampling in other locations.’
PFAS, or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, are a group of synthetic chemicals first created in the 1940s. The chemicals are both oil and water repellant, which has made them useful in a wide variety of consumer goods. However, the chemicals do not break down in the body or the environment, and have been linked to numerous health concerns.
The contamination in Maine has been tied to the spread of sludge, a wastewater treatment byproduct, which was used as an alternative to fertilizer. In recent years, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection has found extremely high levels of PFAS in the water of private wells in the Fairfield area and other locations across Maine.
‘For us this is really a unique scenario in the sense that, most things that we deal with, from a wildlife conservation or management perspective, we have previous experience with, or at the very least can lean on colleagues across the country that have dealt with similar issues in other jurisdictions, and this is one where that’s just not the case,’ Webb said.
After the contamination in Fairfield came to light in 2020, state agencies began testing for PFAS in fish and animals, and those initial results have already prompted consumption advisories for residents. Last November, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife issued a do-not-eat advisory for deer in the Fairfield area, after testing found PFAS in meat and organs from deer in the area.
That do-not-eat advisory remains in effect for the greater Fairfield area this year, as the fall deer rifle season got underway Saturday.
Several months after the deer advisory, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued another consumption advisory, recommending residents limit consumption of freshwater fish from seven bodies of water in Maine after finding PFAS in fish as well.” …