Get ya deer? Get anything else with it?

Some hunters this season in the Fairfield area did: health-harming “forever” chemicals, which have now made their way into the organs and meat of local wildlife.

The discovery hammers home a somber point, and proves why the Legislature and Mills administration was right to take the presence of these chemicals so seriously: The contamination caused by decades of spreading sludge from paper mills and wastewater plants does not stop with the farm fields it was spread on.

Farms in the Fairfield area were part of this program, which at the time was considered beneficial: Farmers got good fertilizer, while municipalities and mills got rid of waste.

But we know now that the sludge was full of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Used for decades as coatings in consumer products such as nonstick cookware and grease-resistant materials, they don’t break down in the environment or the body, thus earning their nickname.

Some have been linked to a number of health problems, including cancer, low birth weight, immune suppression and fertility issues. 


PFAS were detected at high levels near farms in Arundel in 2016, and higher levels in Fairfield in 2020, including where residents report serious health complications that could be caused by exposure to the chemicals through drinking water, among other avenues.

A new one was announced this week. State officials issued a do-not-eat order for deer taken throughout Fairfield and in parts of seven nearby communities after deer tested in those area were found to have elevated levels of PFAS. Some were contaminated enough that they should not be eaten in more than two or three meals a year.

Hunters who have already taken a deer in that area should get rid of it, officials said. If they have already harvested a deer in the area, then the state will offer them an additional deer permit for the season, so all is not lost for those that want to eat venison more than twice this year.

If only that were the end of it.

According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, eight paper companies spread more than 500,000 cubic yards of paper mill waste in Maine from 1989 to 2016. The state has identified more than 500 sites across the state, and is now ramping up its capacity to test them to see just how bad things are.

Once the scope of the problem is known, fortunately, there will be help for Mainers worried about their health and property values. In addition to passing one of the country’s strictest limits on PFAS pollution in drinking water, the Legislature and Gov. Mills also earmarked $30 million for testing, cleanup and water filtration.


On top of cleaning up the old PFAS, something must be done nationally to stop any new ones from doing damage as well. While some types of the chemical are not in use anymore, many still are. The industries that use them say they are safe – where have we heard that before? – but experts disagree.

These new chemicals won’t be dumped on Maine farms like the previous ones, but they can still damage our health, and we can’t allow them to become a part of our ecosystem, as the others already have.

Regardless, we have a way to go. Contaminated deer, unfortunately, won’t be the last we hear of “forever” chemicals.


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