There may be some positive news concerning the impact of so-called forever chemicals on Maine wildlife.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has been waiting — months longer than originally expected — to learn about the levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, in samples of deer and turkeys that were harvested for testing in the Greater Fairfield area last summer and fall.
The results of the animal tissue testing have been delayed due to significant backlogs at the laboratories to which they were sent for evaluation. But while DIF&W has still not received the information from one of the labs, it is encouraged by what it learned about samples sent to the other facility.
“Based on the preliminary results from the first lab, we do believe that we’ll be able to reduce the size of the advisory area substantially, but we want to wait until we get confirmation from the second lab to do that,” Nate Webb, DIF&W’s wildlife division director, said during Tuesday’s meeting of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council.
Webb cautioned that because the results are incomplete, the department must delay making any decisions until it can evaluate all of the information.
“We’re still waiting on results from the second lab for the deer — as well as for the results from the turkeys — that we sampled in the fall,” Webb said. “There’s still a real challenge with lab testing capacity, particularly for tissue, nationwide.”
The state issued a “do not eat” advisory in October 2021 for deer meat harvested from within approximately five miles of the farm where significant PFAS contamination had been discovered. Elevated levels of chemicals found in soil and water samples resulted from spreading septic sludge on the fields.
DIF&W, with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, killed eight deer in 2021 and five of them were found to have high PFAS levels. Based on that information, the state established an advisory area that encompassed the expected maximum range of deer travel.
In April 2022, the state tested wild turkeys harvested from within the advisory area and determined them to be safe to eat. Testing determined that the levels of chemicals were within the range deemed acceptable under state guidelines. Hunters also can only consume a limited amount of turkey meat based on the size of the birds and low bag limits.
Later in 2022, DIF&W and USDA Wildlife Services performed a more extensive sampling of deer, turkeys and other wildlife in and around Fairfield, extending the scope of the study out to the perimeter of the advisory area. The intent was to determine whether the most significant contamination was concentrated in an area closer to the farm where the sludge was spread.
In the meantime, the state will wait for the rest of the test results before making any recommendations.
Webb explained that the state is working on plans to conduct the next phase of its wildlife tissue studies, which are expected to be done at known PFAS contamination sites in Waldo County, east of the Kennebec River.
“Certainly that contamination is much lower than in Fairfield, but it does warrant sampling of wildlife to see if there’s an issue there,” Webb said.