State: Don't eat deer in part of Oscoda due to PFAS chemical contamination
Lansing — Hunters should not eat deer taken in certain areas in Oscoda Township after toxic chemical contaminants were found in one deer, two state departments warned Friday.
The “do-not-eat” advisory for deer taken within five miles of Clark’s Marsh was issued by the Michigan departments of Natural Resources and Health and Humans Services, after one of 20 deer tested at 547 parts per billion for PFOS, a type of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, chemical.
The test is almost double the action level of 300 ppb used when the state considers do-not-eat advisories for fish. A do-not-eat fish advisory also remains in place for the area around Clark’s Marsh.
The five-mile radius encircles the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base property and covers what the DNR has estimated to be the expected travel range of deer living in or near the marsh.
Consumption of PFAS-containing substance can increase risks for cancer, thyroid illnesses, infertility and increased cholesterol, but those effects are believed to result from sustained exposure to high levels, said Angela Minicucci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
People who have eaten deer from the Clark’s Marsh area will not see any immediate health issues. Nonetheless, “if they do have deer that they took from the area, we want them to get rid of it,” Minicucci said.
Members of the Iosco Sportsmen’s Club read Friday about the contaminant from their Wurtsmith shooting range.
Many sportsmen are looking at “a lost season," said Dan Welton, who sits on the club’s board of directors. But he hoped the advisory would limit exposure among members.
“I don’t think we’ve harvested that many deer here yet thus far," Welton said.
The Michigan United Conservation Clubs had decided to discuss potential PFAS impact on fish and wildlife at its December meeting, even before the Friday advisory, said Deputy Director Amy Trotter.
When the club forwarded Friday's advisory to its members, "the one response I got immediately was, ‘Who’s going to be held responsible for this?’” Trotter said.
PFAS are chemicals that are in Class B firefighting foam that was used at the Air Force base near Wurtsmith and other sites in Michigan. These chemicals are also found in stain and water repellents, personal care products and other consumer goods.
The state tested 20 deer around the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, 60 from PFAS contamination sites in Alpena, Rockford and Grayling and 48 that were taken around the state in 2017.
The one contaminated deer in Oscoda was the only one of those sampled to test above the 300 ppb action level. The rest had “no PFAS or very low levels of the chemical,” according to the two state departments.
“We did this because the hunters started asking the question and we couldn’t find any scientific research to help us gauge the risk,” said Tammy Newcomb, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The assumption is that the deer was exposed through consumption of water from contaminated waterways, but the state is looking at other potential sources “because this was so high,” Newcomb said.
The state will be doing additional testing on deer from the Clark’s Marsh region and performing modeling studies to learn about PFAS consumption in wildlife. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest similar advisories are needed elsewhere in the state, Newcomb said.
The deer tested in Oscoda, Alpena, Grayling and Rockford were taken by U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters in the spring and through late August, but results were not available until about a week ago, Minicucci said.
"We are not aware of any other state or scientific study out there that has analyzed deer samples for PFAS before, so it took time to run the tests," Minicucci said in an email. The Oct. 12 results were analyzed quickly to develop preliminary results and develop the advisory, but analyses of the samples is ongoing, Minicucci said.
Unlike deer infected by chronic wasting disease, those with high PFAS concentrations will show no outward signs of contamination, she said.
The advisory will have a significant impact on the hunting tourism in the area, and limit opportunities for Oscoda residents who rely on deer meat as an economic alternative to buying from a store, said Township Supervisor Aaron Weed.
“This just compounds the problem and shows more so how significant of a problem this contaminant is,” Weed said. “It also brings in strong concerns about all the years people have been eating the deer and fish without knowing it was contaminated.”
The state issued the advisory on the same day it announced a second violation notice to the U.S. Air Force for PFAS contamination at Clark’s Marsh. The notice requires the Air Force to increase pumping and treatment of water by more than four-fold and increase the capture zone of the PFAS seeping from the base.
State correspondence indicates the U.S. Department of Defense has dragged its feet on plans for remediation at the site, arguing that contamination migrating from the former Air Force base is not the department’s responsibility.
“Although the State of Michigan has sought to work cooperatively with the Air Force, slow response to PFAS contamination is not acceptable and the state is prepared to use every regulatory and legal means necessary to force the Air Force to address this contamination,” said Carol Isaacs, director for the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team.