For Immediate Release: Mar 25, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Massachusetts Needs a PFAS Public Health Advisory for Game
“Forever Chemical” Buildup in Food Chain Affects Game and Fish in Toxic Hotspots
Boston —The waters in popular Wildlife Management Areas near Boston have high levels of a dangerous toxin, raising concerns about the health effects of eating fish and game taken there, according to a letter sent today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) to Commonwealth officials. The group is urging the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to issue a “Do Not Eat” advisory for fish and game within five miles of the most contaminated surface waters.
At issues are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances called PFAS that do not break down in the environment (hence the “forever chemical” label) and bioaccumulate in the food chain. PFAS are associated with birth defects, damage to infants, the liver, kidneys, and the immune system, as well as a cancer risk.
Ft. Devens, a former Army base outside of Boston, is a major source of PFAS pollution, mostly from their extensive use in fire-fighting foam. Some of the townships around that old base have high levels of PFAS in their waters, well above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lifetime Health Advisory of 70 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for two of the chemicals. The nearby townships of Devens and Ayer have detected levels as high as 39,000 ppt, and in public drinking water wells of 85 to 134 ppt.
The environs also include Wildlife Management Areas where hunting and fishing is allowed, yet –
- The only advisories in Ayer are for high levels of mercury in fish. There are no PFAS advisories;
- By contrast, the State of Michigan issued a “Do Not Eat” advisory for deer taken within five miles of PFAS contamination after a single deer was found to have levels of 547 ppb in its muscle; and
- PFAS can also get into the tissues of domestic livestock exposed to contaminated water and air, making consumption of dairy, poultry, eggs or meat in these areas a human health concern.
“An abundance of caution requires our public health officials take a hard look at this new risk,” stated New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Given that less than 50% of Massachusetts public water supplies have been tested, and that none of the surface waters not used for drinking water have been tested at all, the extent of contamination might be far more widespread than we are aware.”
In addition, PEER discovered that the Commonwealth’s authority to issue consumption advisories are scattered among five statutes, lacking clear statutory guidance. Complicating matters further, there are currently no enforceable standards for PFAS in drinking water nationally or in Massachusetts.
“PEER urges the Commonwealth to analyze not only the threats posed by these emerging contaminants, such as PFAS, but also to examine its antiquated approach to these modern threats,” added Bennett. “Once ultrapotent toxic nonbiodegradable chemicals penetrate our food chain, they create a long-term shadow over our public health.”