FUDs clean up progress in Alaska: almost half of Formerly Used Defense Sites finished.
While Alaska is often admired for its pristine environment, there are places in the state that still bear the scars of war. The good news is these Formerly Used Defense Sites, or FUDS, are being cleaned up at a steady rate.
"A lot of these properties date back to World War II," said John Halverson, Environmental Program Manager, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (AKDEC), who is responsible for overseeing Department of Defense (DOD) clean up in Alaska. "Airports and coastal defense sites were built, and there were even battles fought in the Aleutians when the Japanese occupied Kiska and Attu."
Some of the more recent FUDS facilities also date from the Cold War.
To date, the Army Corps of Engineers has identified 75 FUDS properties that have current or future work needed, and on those properties, there are about 300 different projects to be completed. Sixty-four properties have been successfully remediated. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for a number of these projects; others that were not transferred out of the DOD before 1986 are the responsibility of the Air Force or the former owners of the properties.
Since the mid-1980s, FUDS Installation Restoration Programs (IRPs) have been going on throughout the state for the clean-up of debris and solid waste. In 2009, an additional component--the Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP)--was added to FUDS requirements. This program focuses on discarded military munitions, munitions constituents and unexploded ordnance.
"Approximately 275 IRPs still require work, with completion costs estimated at $600 million," Halverson said. "There are 24 MMRPs to complete, with the cost estimated at $500 million. Those sites are still being researched, however, so that number will probably increase."
The bulk of work at IRP sites revolves around petroleum-contaminated soils and groundwater, though a large number of sites also have PCBs and chlorinated solvents. The method used to clean each site depends upon the contaminants found.
"Petroleum-contaminated soils and groundwater can be cleaned up on site through viral remediation," Halverson said. "Because many of the sites are located in remote areas that are expensive to travel to and don't have support facilities available, it is sometimes more cost-effective to haul the waste out."
Because PCBs are harder to break down and there are not good on-site treatment technologies available, these sites are typically excavated and the waste backhauled to treatment facilities, often in the Lower 48.
"In most cases, the Corps is able to return sites to unrestricted-use levels, though this is sometimes not feasible because of the types of contaminants," Halverson said. "For example, it is not practical to remove landfills on sites, and chlorinated solvents in ground-water cannot feasibly be cleaned up in short period of time, so land use would remain restricted."
Northeast Cape on Saint Lawrence Island is a recent FUDS clean-up project. The White Alice Communication System site was decommissioned and closed and the land was transferred to the local Alaska Native corporation.
"FUDS program work has been going on there for several years," Halverson said. "In 2011, contractors working for the Corps of Engineers removed over 7,000 tons of petroleum-contaminated soil, over 4,000 tons of PCB-contaminated soil, and several tons of metals-contaminated soil and other solid wastes."
Eielson Farm Road near Eielson Air Force Base is another example. A former anti-aircraft artillery site with fairly extensive petroleum-contaminated soil and groundwater, its surrounding area is becoming developed for residential use. Contractors are currently excavating and treating approximately 16,000 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated soil.
Funds to clean Formerly Used Defense Sites are appropriated by Congress and in FY2010, $27 million was budgeted for Alaska. "In FY2011, the Corps did get a budget increase through a one-time movement of funds from Army programs equaling $50 million," Halverson said.
As to when clean-up of the sites will be completed, the focus is still long-term.
"The Department of Defense recently updated their goal of having responses completed at 95 percent of FUDS--excluding MMRPs--by 2021," Halverson said. "In the next 10 years, the goal is to get traditional contaminated sites' remedies in place, though there may still need to be long-term monitoring."
Federal and State laws now exist to prevent sites like this from occurring in the future; laws that were not in place before 1986.
"Standard practice used to be to take waste out and dispose of it onsite instead of hauling it to an off-site location," Halverson said. "There has since been a vast improvement in waste management not only on the federal agency level, but in the general public at large."