Oh my deer: PFAS found in nature have hunters spooked

I’ll preface this by stating that I’ve never shot a gun or killed an animal — unless you include any bug that has ever made the mistake of breaking and entering my room. To the fly I smacked with a rolled up copy of the Daily Trojan last night, rest in peace. 

Growing up in Tennessee, I know plenty of people who enjoy hunting. Many consider shooting and killing a deer for the first time to be a significant event in their lives. I would never enjoy or want to do it, but deer hunting is rather important to the homeostasis of the environment. 

Hunting helps stabilize the deer population, which in turn helps prevent overconsumption of the vegetation deer eat. The decrease in precipitation, which is attributed to (surprise) climate change, is slowing the growth of natural plants. 

The effect is felt worldwide, as seen in the 21 percent increase in the world’s population of people who have experienced acute food insecurity at crisis levels. Additionally, people living in just 10 countries (Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Pakistan and Yemen) make up for just under three-quarters of the reported 139 million people. 

It’ll take so much more than hunting to fix that problem, but every drop counts in the drying out bucket of catching up with the climate crisis. 

A decline in predator populations, caused by the expanding development throughout the country, has contributed to the increase in deer. 

So, while I won’t jump at my next opportunity to kill Bambi, I understand the importance of hunting. It is sad to say, but someone has to do it. And deer jerky isn’t actually that bad.

However, the deer-consuming population is facing a problem. Elevated levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (man-made chemicals that have been used in the production of goods worldwide since the 1940s) have been found in deer killed this hunting season. Used to make anything from nonstick cookware to stain-resistant fabrics, the introduction of PFAS into the natural environment could be harmful to both humans and animals. 

Studies suggest that exposure to some PFAS can lead to decreased fertility or high blood pressure in pregnant women, a variety of developmental effects or delays in children, increased risk of some cancer and a host of other health issues. PFAS are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down; instead they stick around in our bodies and increase the chances of any of the aforementioned ailments. That rather extensive list has convinced me to refuse any PFAS on the menu.

It can be tough to filter out PFAS consumption — they’re everywhere, having made their way into fish, soil and bodies of water. Many major cities have had problems keeping PFAS from surrounding factories out of their drinking water. 

Now we can add deer to the list. 

With many states issuing “Do Not Eat” advisories for deer and fish as the knowledge of the increase in PFAS has become more widespread, the hunting industry, and thus the deer overpopulation issue, could suffer. Taking away the ability to eat what you’ve killed could disincentivize some hunters from participating in the sport. 

This problem will likely only get worse. While PFOA and PFOS, two or the more harmful PFAS chemicals, are not produced in the United States anymore, they are still used internationally to manufacture products that are imported into the U.S. 

There isn’t really a correct answer to solving this problem, as seems to be the case with most issues affecting the environment. Limiting and outlawing the use of PFAS seems like an obvious start, but with the financial benefits of using these chemicals, it will be difficult to put effective regulations in place because of a bunch of pieces of paper called money. Additionally, the damage done up to this point is irreversible — these chemicals are around forever. 

So, if you’re a hunter and are looking to mount a deer head above your twin XL bed this semester, be careful what you do with the rest of the body. And don’t shoot your eye out.

Patrick Warren is a senior writing about the intersection of sports and climate change. His column “The World of Sports” runs every other Wednesday.