Deer Meat Increasingly Contaminated with Hazardous PFAS Chemicals

By Jim Clugger


Littorary - deer painting with impressionist landscape


Harvesting meat from the wild should provide the purest form of sustenance, but recent events cast doubt on that thinking. Maine just became the third state to release a “Do Not Eat” advisory for deer meat contaminated with perfluoroalkyls (PFAS) chemicals.

The advisory issued on November 23, 2021, states, “the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a ‘Do Not Eat’ advisory for deer taken in the greater Fairfield area. A "Do Not Eat" advisory is a recommendation to not eat game harvested within a specified area issued in response to a possible health concern.”

PFAS are a group of synthetic chemicals made by humans; it is not naturally occurring. These chemicals have been produced in the U.S. since the 1940’s and are currently used in food packaging, clothing, household products, and fire-fighting foams.

Maine issued the advisory after testing five deer harvested from the Fairfield area with PFAS levels of 40 parts per billion. Eating just three or four meals from such an animal could be hazardous to human health, while a typical deer would be expected to yield over 200 servings.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines multiple possible health effects of PFAS exposure, including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. The CDC also warns that exposure limits to certain types of PFAS should be 10 times lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current levels.

Maine joins Michigan and Wisconsin in issuing a “Do Not Eat” advisory for deer meat because of PFAS contamination. The Michigan advisory was issued in 2018 and covered a 5-mile radius around the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. The advisory is still in effect today but was recently reduced to a 3-mile radius. The Wisconsin advisory was issued in 2020 and covers a similar 5-mile radius centered at the JCI/Tyco Fire Technology Center.

It is likely that the frequency of PFAS contamination in game meat will increase as wildlife habitat shrinks and contact with human civilization increases. And knowledge about the pathways of PFAS chemicals into the environment is likely to promote monitoring and discovery of additional contaminated sites.

The source of the PFAS contamination in Maine resulted from the use of waste sludge as a field fertilizer. It was first detected in dairy milk during routine testing, according to the Bangor Daily News. The discovery of agricultural contamination in Maine and the resulting spread to wildlife could be the harbinger of more widespread and similar findings. The EPA has promoted the practice of spreading sewage sludge on agricultural lands, in forests, and on residential property since 1995 and says that agricultural application of sewage sludge is practiced in nearly every state.

The contamination in Michigan and Wisconsin originated from a different source, fire-fighting foam. In Michigan the foam was used on a now defunct Air Force Base and in Wisconsin the foam came from an industrial facility owned by Tyco, a manufacturer of the fire-fighting foam.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has used fire-fighting foams extensively. The DoD is currently evaluating approximately 700 sites where PFAS contaminated foams were used. Initial assessments indicate that at least half of these sites are contaminated to such an extent that they will require over $3 billion for PFAS cleanup. The DoD also notified over 2000 potentially contaminated agricultural sites that might have been affected by PFAS fire-fighting foam use at its bases.

Once PFAS is released into the environment it tends to stay there and accumulate. The carbon-fluorine bond is very strong, so chemical breakdown does not occur readily in the natural environment, which is why PFAS is known as the “forever chemical”.

Greater levels of concentration in the environment lead to higher exposure for humans. According to the CDC most Americans have been exposed to PFAS and have PFAS in their blood. A recent study showed that 100% of breastmilk samples from study participants contained PFAS.

PFAS originating in food packaging, clothing, household products, and fire-fighting foams has found its way onto agricultural land contaminating the cultivated food supply and hunted food alike. A reasonable approach to stop environmental accumulation and human exposure is to stop producing and using PFAS chemicals.

We here at Littorary are concerned about the degree of human exposure to synthetic chemicals. It’s why we have limited the use of plastics in our products wherever possible and use no PFAS chemistry.

Littorary is committed to making durable and sophisticated products that rival the convenience of plastics without the burden to human health. We believe technology and design innovations can revolutionize how Americans and the world consume products in concert with their personal health. Please stay tuned to our website, blog, and upcoming Kickstarter page as we unveil a product fully capable of providing the convenience and peace of mind that will consign the concept of disposable plastics to the garbage heap of history.

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