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State health department shrinks ‘Do Not Eat’ area for deer near PFAS-contaminated site

Michigan DNR

The state Department of Health and Human Services has reduced the area covered by an advisory against eating deer harvested near a contaminated site in Northern Michigan.

The department said new research indicates deer aren’t traveling as far as they’d feared.

The health department had been telling people not to eat deer found within a five-mile radius of Clark’s Marsh in Oscoda Township, next to the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base. On Thursday, the department reduced that radius to three miles.

Andrea Keatley, a manager with the state’s environmental health division, said the health department has been working with the state Department of Natural Resources to sample deer near the marsh for a family of chemicals called PFAS.

Those chemicals were used in firefighting foams on the nearby Air Force base and have since been linked to a variety of health problems in humans, including cancer and developmental delays.

The initial five-mile radius was based on the high end of an estimate from the DNR about how far deer could travel from the marsh. New data show deer in the area are sticking closer to the wetlands, said Keatley.

State health department toxicologist Puneet Vij said researchers aren’t yet sure how the chemicals are getting into the deer.

He said the reduced three-mile radius is actually still a little extra cautious. “Most of the detections are within two miles from the Clark’s Marsh. We have that one-mile buffer. That’s why the coverage area is three miles,” Vij said.

Brett joined Michigan Public in December 2021 as an editor.