In this Monday, May 4, 2020 file photo, a wild turkey crosses a field in Freeport, Maine. Wildlife officials are planning to test turkey in the Fairfield area for PFAS contamination ahead of hunting season. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine wildlife officials have begun testing turkeys from the Fairfield area for so-called forever chemicals ahead of the state’s scheduled start of turkey hunting season. 

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife started testing turkeys in February in an expansion of the state’s investigation of PFAS contamination in the Fairfield area, according to department spokesperson Mark Latti.

The birds are being tested for 28 different varieties of forever chemicals — known technically as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. They are the second land animal to be tested in the Fairfield area after the state began testing deer for PFAS last October and detected high levels of forever chemicals, leading the state to warn hunters against consuming the meat from deer killed there.

Spring wild turkey hunting season begins May 2 and ends June 4. There’s also a youth spring wild turkey hunting day on April 30.

The testing of a new species shows both the far-reaching effects of Maine’s PFAS contamination problem, including on the state’s outdoors traditions, and how the Fairfield area has become a hotspot for contamination.

PFAS include hundreds of different kinds of chemicals that manufacturers have used widely for decades to make a number of everyday products, such as waterproof clothing, non-stick cookware, grease-resistant food wrappers and firefighting foam. PFAS have been connected with a number of health effects, including elevated risk of kidney and testicular cancer and small decreases in infant birth weight.

Maine has been racing to better understand the scope of PFAS contamination statewide. It has started to ramp up testing of soil and groundwater on farms where sludge — a byproduct of wastewater treatment — was spread as fertilizer, and the state’s public drinking water systems have to test their sources for PFAS by the end of the year. The state is also collecting PFAS test results from licensed landfills to determine the chemicals’ concentration in their liquid runoff.

In the Fairfield area, routine testing of milk from an area dairy farm revealed high concentrations of the chemicals, prompting a wider investigation that has included testing of well water that has shown elevated levels of PFAS. There have also been high PFAS levels detected in fish from waters in the Fairfield area, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Wildlife officials are testing the turkeys’ muscle tissue — the meat — and livers, as those are what hunters and their families most commonly eat, Latti said. 

The testing of the turkeys will continue later this spring, as wildlife officials want to know if there are any differences in PFAS concentrations in the birds as they switch from their winter range and food sources to spring and summer ranges and food sources, Latti said. 

More animals will likely be tested as the year goes on, including geese and ducks along with other commonly hunted birds and animals, such as grouse and squirrels, he said.

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Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...