The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says it is testing deer harvested near the Duluth International Airport and in some Twin Cities suburbs to check for the potentially cancer-causing PFAS family of chemicals.
The DNR has already collected liver and muscle samples from some deer taken near the airport, home to the 148th Fighter Wing air base which has been found to be contaminated with the chemicals, likely the result of the foam used to battle aircraft fires.
State wildlife officials also are asking hunters who harvest deer near the Duluth airport to submit deer livers for sampling. And, until test results come back, the DNR suggests hunters not eat the livers of deer taken near the airport.
The liver filters toxins in the body, and may contain higher levels of chemicals than muscle meat.
It’s the first time Minnesota deer have been sampled for the substances — per- and polyfluoroalkyl — the stuff left behind by firefighting foam, nonstick cookware, Scotchgard and other products. But the DNR precautions follow warnings issued for contaminated deer in Michigan and Wisconsin near industrial sites known to have PFAS contamination.
Just last week the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a warning not to eat the livers of deer harvested within five miles of a fire training center in Marinette County. All 20 deer tested last winter from the area had detectable PFAS in their livers.
In October, 2018, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a “do not eat” advisory for any deer taken within 5 miles of Wurtsmith Air Force Base.
The News Tribune first reported one year ago that high levels of PFAS chemicals were found in soils and water samples at and near the Duluth air base. Several sites on and near the base now exceed state standards for human health for PFAS levels, and one homeowner near the base is getting bottled water from the state after levels found in the home's well exceeded state standards. PFAS also has been found downstream from the base in Miller Creek and in Rice Lake.
It's been known for years that PFAS chemicals are found in aircraft firefighting foam, which has been used extensively for training at the Duluth base for decades. Officials at the 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard that operates the base have said they are moving to eliminate the foams containing PFAS chemicals.
Studies have documented multiple effects, including cancers in highly exposed groups — especially testicular and kidney cancers — as well as impacts to the immune system and metabolism. Evidence also indicates that elevated PFAS in wildlife can lead to developmental and reproductive problems.
In the Great Lakes region, elevated levels of PFAS have been found in insect-eating birds such as tree swallows, in fish and in fish-eating birds including great blue herons and bald eagles as well as deer. PFAS chemicals have spurred fish consumption advisories in some areas.
The Twin Cities deer sampling will be done near where 3M manufactured PFAS and disposed of PFAS-containing wastes at multiple disposal sites, causing a widespread area of groundwater and surface water contamination.
The DNR initiated sampling near the Duluth airport south of Rice Lake Reservoir when the archery season opened on Sept. 19, and is also making arrangements for samples to be collected in portions of the east metro area of the Twin Cities.
The Minnesota DNR plans to collect liver and muscle tissues from a total of 60 hunter harvested deer within or near the two areas where PFAS are known to be impacting surface water. The DNR will reach out to hunters in these areas directly and ask them to voluntarily submit liver and muscle tissue samples from their harvested deer for testing purposes.
The DNR worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health to select the two sites because they have been known for possible PFAS exposure routes for deer and are in the proximity of planned hunts.
“We hope to gather some baseline data to determine if PFAS are accumulating in deer in Minnesota,’’ said Barbara Keller, DNR big game program leader.