In this Thursday Aug. 15, 2019 photo, hay dries after a recent cut at Stoneridge Farm in Arundel, Maine. The farm was forced to shut down after sludge spread on the farm land was linked to high levels of PFAS in the milk. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

David Trahan was aware that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were discovered in well water near a dairy farm in Fairfield in 2020.

But the revelation by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife that the contaminants were also in deer meat sounded a new alarm for the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, who is an avid hunter and fisherman.

“It caught us by surprise that this made it into deer; not just the liver, but in the meat of the deer,” Trahan, a Clinton native, said. “That was a shocker. Nobody saw that one coming.”

After the discovery of “forever chemicals” in eight deer in Fairfield last month, DIF&W will test more deer at other sites suspected to have been affected by toxic sludge. But the testing timeline is a long one, and there are limited facilities in the U.S. where animal samples can be tested for PFAS. That means the wait to receive test results can take several weeks.

“If I’m living in those areas, the shortest period of time we can leave them in limbo, the better, because it’s always the fear of the unknown,” Trahan said.

Trahan said there is a simple solution to that issue.

“I think it begins with an investment in a laboratory here in Maine,” he said, noting that such a facility should be able to handle testing of water, soil, plants and animal tissue.

Trahan said the equipment needed to perform PFAS testing costs approximately $450,000 but represents a significant and critical investment if Maine is to aggressively investigate PFAS contamination.

With a state budget surplus of $8 million and federal money available, Trahan said establishing and staffing a lab should be a priority. Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine is contacting legislators and has been in contact with Sen. Susan Collins’ office in the hope of generating support for such a project.

“This has to, in my opinion, elevate to one of the highest priorities the state has right now,” Trahan said.

“We can’t do anything but wonder and be afraid until we have good information. And the faster we get the information, the better.”

The testing performed on eight deer in Fairfield found that five contained high levels of the chemicals. DIF&W immediately issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer taken from in and around Fairfield and suggested that all meat harvested there be destroyed.

The news triggered a whirlwind of worry and questions about how wildlife in other parts of Maine may be sickened by PFAS. There is serious concern about people’s exposure to the chemicals near other sites where industrial sludge and septic waste have been applied to farm fields as fertilizer.

“It’s extremely disturbing,” said Trahan, who has been spearheading Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s efforts to help facilitate a speedy and effective response to what he called an environmental crisis.

DIF&W will conduct future testing of deer — and possibly fish, turkeys and other wildlife — based in part on the findings of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection at sites in 33 towns suspected to have been affected by toxic sludge.

More vigorous and expanded PFAS testing is likely to require more funding and staffing for state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection and DIF&W, which Trahan said will need more manpower to execute the studies.

DIF&W enlisted the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill and process the deer at the Fairfield location.

“[The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine] have some influence in the Legislature and we’re going to use it to get them the resources that they need,” Trahan said.

Even though DIF&W has thus far issued a “do not eat” advisory only for venison from deer harvested near Fairfield, hunters — particularly those who live in and around other suspected contaminated sites — may in the meantime want to consider not eating deer liver or kidneys, Trahan said.

DIF&W already had a recommendation in place not to consume moose or deer liver and kidneys because of possible contamination with the heavy metal cadmium.

Trahan’s hope is to make people aware of what’s going on so they can take whatever steps are needed to help protect themselves.

“This is an environmental crisis,” Trahan said. “It’s also a crisis of information and figuring out how to get all this information accurately and effectively as soon as possible. We have to make people as safe as they can possibly be.”

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...