This Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation map shows PFAS sites through Alaska. (Courtesy Photo | Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

This Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation map shows PFAS sites through Alaska. (Courtesy Photo | Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)

PFAS chemical contamination will cost Alaska millions

Addressing chemical contamination comes at a price

PFAS contamination is a widespread problem in Alaska and the U.S., and addressing it is going to be costly.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of super-resilient, man-made chemicals, which according to the Environmental Protection Agency, are associated with low infant birth weights, cancer, thyroid hormone disruption and negative effects on the immune system. They’ve been found in soil and groundwater around the country and state, including in Yakutat, Gustavus and Fairbanks.

In Juneau, soil and water samples were taken near Juneau’s Hagevig Regional Fire Training Center to test for PFAS, but results are not yet available, said Lori Sowa, project manager for City and Borough of Juneau. Testing is also planned at Juneau International Airport. Sampling at the Juneau training center cost $19,218 and was paid for out of the Capital City Fire/Rescue operating budget, Sowa said.

But it’s not the only entity that’s had to foot PFAS-related bills this year.

[Juneau tests groundwater and soil for chemicals]

This fiscal year, two state departments — Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities — have so far spent almost $1 million collectively on PFAS-related costs, according to department figures.

About 10 times that could be spent around the state over the next five years, wrote DEC information officer Laura Achee in an email to the Empire.

“The current FY20 capital budget includes a supplemental appropriation that would provide $9.4 million from the fund for the DEC and DOT PFAS groundwater contamination response that could be used over a period of five years,” Achee wrote.

While there is an EPA management plan for dealing with PFAS, right now it’s something that’s being handled differently by different states.

In Wisconsin, that’s meant proposing a $200,000 plan for detecting PFAS. In New York it’s meant the availability of $185 million for water treatment system upgrades to combat PFAS. Some states don’t even have state-specific websites addressing PFAS.

Alaska’s spending and response lies somewhere in the middle.

“During the current state fiscal year (FY19), DEC has spent approximately $550,000 on work related to PFAS,” Achee wrote. “This reflects personnel, travel, and contractual expenditures, and includes time spent to work with responsible parties or work managed directly by DEC when a responsible party either cannot be located or is unable to respond. This total does not include the time spent by DEC management on PFAS policy issues.”

That work has been funded primarily from the Oil and Hazardous Substance Release Prevention and Response Fund, Achee wrote.

As of June 16, the DOT had spent a total of $111,583.85 on PFAS-related expenses across the Central, Southcoast and Northern regions, but expects to pay $310,248.41, according to figures provided by Sammy Loud, PFAS coordinator for the state Department of Transportation & Public Facilities.

The funding comes from each region’s respective general fund, Loud said.

That total includes charges not covered by the Division of Risk Management, which covers most off-airport costs.

The charges include alternative water, the safe disposal of PFAS-containing firefighting foam, environmental monitoring and sampling and more. Personnel costs were also not included.

[Pollutant contaminates Gustavus well water]

The Fairbanks International Airport is an example of the sort of expenses that a PFAS-related project can accrue over time when employee costs are factored in. PFAS-containing foam was used at the airport for many years and soil and water samples taken in the summer of 2017 showed PFAS levels above levels that prompt a clean-up, which prompted the ongoing project.

Since November 2017, $5.23 million has been spent on that project, according to Loud. The money comes from the International Airport Revenue fund rather than state funds.

“It’s a lot further along than other projects,” Loud said.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


More in News

Even as coronavirus numbers are going down and vaccines are being distributed, pandemic-related facilities like the testing site at Juneau International Airport, seen here in this Oct. 12 file photo, are scheduled to remain for some time, according to city health officials. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Vaccines are coming, but pandemic facilities will remain

Testing sites and other COVID-19 operations will continue, officials say, but infections are trending down.

White House, tribes joined to deliver Alaska Native vaccines

The initiative has treated Indigenous tribes as sovereign governments and set aside special vaccine shipments.

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., join other senators as they return to the House chamber to continue the joint session of the House and Senate and count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Murkowski on impeachment: ‘I will listen carefully’ to both sides

As for timing, the senator said, “our priority this week must be to ensure safety in Washington, D.C.”

Has it always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Juneau City Hall. The City and Borough of Juneau has distributed nearly $5 million in household and individual assistance grants since October. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
All housing and most personal assistance grants processed

About $5 million in aid is flowing to households and individuals in Juneau.

A child plays at Capital School Park. The park is in line for a remodel that will fix the crumbling retaining wall, visible in the background. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
A new life is in store for Capital School Park

Public input is helping craft a vision for the park’s voter-approved facelift.

Expected heavy snow and high winds Thursday evening prompted Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to issue a warning of increased avalanche hazard along Thane Road. (File photo)
Avalanche risk increasing along Thane Road

Be careful and plan for the possibility of an extended road closure.

Most Read