As part of Michigan’s efforts to identify PFAS in Michigan, deer are tested from areas known to have PFAS contamination in lakes or rivers.
In October of 2018, MDHHS and DNR issued a ‘Do Not Eat’ advisory for deer taken within five miles of Clark’s Marsh in Oscoda Township. The advisory is due to high levels of PFAS chemicals found in deer taken within five miles of the Marsh. One deer out of twenty tested around the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base was found to have high levels of PFOS. The level of PFOS in the muscle of the deer was 547 parts per billion, exceeding the level of 300 ppb at which action is recommended. PFAS was either not found or was at low levels in muscle samples from the other 19 deer. Although only one deer of this group tested at such high levels, the advisory was issued to protect the health of anyone eating venison taken within approximately five miles of Clark’s Marsh. The state has plans to test more deer from this area.
The five-mile radius encircles the Wurtsmith base property and covers what the DNR has estimated to be the expected travel range of deer living in or near the marsh. See a map of the advisory area.
DNR also collected an additional 60 deer for PFAS testing in 2018 as part of the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team’s work on this emerging contaminant. In addition to the testing around Wurtsmith, 20 deer were taken from near each of the PFAS investigation sites in Alpena, Rockford and Grayling with known contamination in lakes and rivers. The deer meat tested from these areas was found to have no PFAS or very low levels of the chemical. An additional 48 samples of deer muscle from the 2017 hunting season were tested from other areas across the state. Preliminary data for these deer also show no PFAS contamination or very low levels of the chemical. When the full data analysis is available, it will be posted to this website.
Deer in Oakland County’s Proud Lake Recreation Area were investigated in 2019 because elevated PFOS levels had been identified in fish collected from Kent Lake, an impoundment of the Huron River. Surface water samples collected in July, August, and October 2018 from Norton Creek (which flows into the Huron River) and from the Huron River (downstream of Norton Creek) had elevated levels of PFOS.
In April 2019, samples were taken from 20 white-tailed deer within five miles of Norton Creek to test for PFAS. Samples of muscle, liver, kidney, and heart were tested for multiple PFAS. No PFAS were found in any muscle or heart samples. In liver and kidney samples, PFOS was the only PFAS found. Based on this data, MDHHS concluded consumption guidelines are not needed for deer from the Norton Creek area. Organs (liver and kidneys) may contain higher levels of chemicals than muscle, so MDHHS recommends that people not eat the organs.
DNR and MDHHS developed these investigations in response to questions from hunters concerned about harvesting deer in contaminated areas. These are the first studies of their kind and very little scientific information exists on whitetail deer and PFAS chemicals.
It is unknown how PFAS could accumulate to these levels in deer. The State of Michigan is investigating the circumstances of the one deer near Wurtsmith with elevated levels and doing further analysis on these test results to learn more about PFAS in deer and wildlife. In addition, 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.
MDHHS and DNR advise hunters to dispose of any deer in their freezer that may have come from the Clark's Marsh area and do not eat it.
If you have health related questions, contact MDHHS at 1-800-648-6942. Hunters can contact the MDNR at 517-284-6057 or DNR-CustomerService@michigan.gov for information about deer tags that were used in this region.