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‘Forever chemicals’ in deer, fish challenge hunters, tourism

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‘Forever chemicals’ in deer, fish challenge hunters, tourism

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Wildlife agencies in the U.S. are finding elevated levels of a class of toxic chemicals in game animals such as deer — and that’s prompting health advisories in some places where hunting and fishing are ways of life and key pieces of the economy.

Authorities have detected the high levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in deer in several states, including Michigan and Maine, where legions of hunters seek to bag a buck every fall. Sometimes called “forever chemicals” for their persistence in the environment, PFAS are industrial compounds used in numerous products, such as nonstick cookware and clothing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched an effort last year to limit pollution from the chemicals, which are linked to health problems including cancer and low birth weight.

But discovery of the chemicals in wild animals hunted for sport and food represents a new challenge that some states have started to confront by issuing “do not eat” advisories for deer and fish and expanding testing for PFAS in them.

“The fact there is an additional threat to the wildlife — the game that people are going out to hunt and fish — is a threat to those industries, and how people think about hunting and fishing,” said Jennifer Hill, associate director of the Great Lakes Regional Center for the National Wildlife Federation.

PFAS chemicals are an increasing focus of public health and environmental agencies, in part because they don’t degrade or do so slowly in the environment and can remain in a person’s bloodstream for life.

The chemicals get into the environment through production of consumer goods and waste. T hey also have been used in firefighting foam and in agriculture. PFAS-tainted sewage sludge has long been applied to fields as fertilizer and compost.

In Maine, where the chemicals were detected in well water at hundreds of times the federal health advisory level, legislators passed a law in 2021 requiring manufacturers to report their use of the chemicals and to phase them out by 2030. Environmental health advocates have said Maine’s law could be a model for other states, some working on their own PFAS legislation.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, signed a bill in September that bans the chemicals from cosmetics sold in the state. And more than 20 states have proposed or adopted limits for PFAS in drinking water, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

More testing will likely find the chemicals are present in other game animals besides deer, such as wild turkeys and fish, said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a hunting and outdoors advocacy group.

The discovery could have a negative impact on outdoor tourism in the short term, Trahan said. “If people are unwilling to hunt and fish, how are we going to manage those species?” he said. “You’re getting it in your water, you’re getting it in your food, you’re getting it in wild game.”

Maine was one of the first states to detect PFAS in deer. The state issued a “do not eat” advisory last year for deer harvested in the Fairfield area, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Portland, after several of the animals tested positive for elevated levels.

The state is now expanding the testing to more animals across a wider area, said Nate Webb, wildlife division director at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “Lab capacity has been challenging,” he said, “but I suspect there will be more facilities coming online to help ease that burden — in Maine and elsewhere in the country.”

Wisconsin has tested deer, ducks and geese for PFAS, and as a result issued a “do not eat” advisory for deer liver around Marinette, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of Green Bay. The state also asked fishermen to reduce consumption of Lake Superior’s popular rainbow smelt to one meal per month.

Some chemicals, including PFAS, can accumulate in the liver over time because the organ filters the chemicals from the blood, Wisconsin’s natural resources department told hunters. New Hampshire authorities have also issued an advisory to avoid consuming deer liver.

Michigan was the first state to assess PFAS in deer, said Tammy Newcomb, senior executive assistant director for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The state issued its first “do not eat” advisory in 2018 for deer taken in and near Oscoda Township. Michigan has since issued an advisory against eating organs, such as liver and kidneys, from deer, fish or any other wild game anywhere in the state. It has also studied waterfowl throughout the state in areas of PFAS surface water contamination.

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The state’s expanded testing also has proven beneficial because it helped authorities find out which areas don’t have a PFAS problem, Newcomb said.

“People like to throw up their arms and say we can’t do anything about it. I like to point to our results and say that’s not true,” Newcomb said. “Finding PFAS as a contaminant of concern has been the exception and not the rule.”

The chemical has also been found in shellfish that are collected recreationally and commercially. Scientists from the Florida International University Institute of Environment sampled more than 150 oysters from around the state and detected PFAS in every one, according to their study in August. Natalia Soares Quinete, an assistant professor in the institute’s chemistry and biochemistry department, described the chemicals as “a long-term poison” that jeopardizes human health.

Dr. Leo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine who has studied PFAS, said the best way to avoid negative health effects is reducing exposure. But, Trasande said that’s difficult to do because the chemicals are so commonplace and long-lasting in the environment.

“If you’re seeing it in humans, you’re likely going to see the effects in animals,” he said.

Wildlife authorities have tried to inform hunters of the presence of PFAS in deer with posted signs in hunting areas as well as advisories on social media and the internet. One such sign, in Michigan, told hunters that high amounts of PFAS “may be found in deer and could be harmful to your health.”

Kip Adams, chief conservation officer for the National Deer Association, said the discovery of PFAS in states like Maine and Michigan is very concerning to hunters.

“With the amount of venison my family eats, I can’t imagine not being able to do that,” Adams said. “To this point, everything we’ve done has been about sharing information and making sure people are aware of it.”

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Follow Patrick Whittle on Twitter: @pxwhittle

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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