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Keeping Alaska clean: Alaska making progress in hazardous waste removal.

When most people picture Alaska, they imagine bright blue skies, fresh, unpolluted water, towering mountains and vast stretches of uninhabited land. And while much of the state lives up to this idealized image, there are some areas that, due to past environmental contamination, will take a long time to return to this pristine state.

Though it might seem hard to imagine, Alaska does have its share of hazardous, toxic and radiological waste. The good news is that the state and federal government, as well as Alaska environmental remediation companies, are taking the lead in cleaning up these polluted sites.

Brice Environmental Services Inc., headquartered in Fairbanks, provides remediation services within the state and nationwide. These services can range from inspecting buildings for asbestos to removing PCB-contaminated soil. "One of the most unique things that our company does is clean up small arms firing ranges," explained Craig Jones, executive vice president. "We have actually created a process that is in patent review right now that enables us to reclaim these ranges."

When soldiers train on a range, bullets are left behind. Made of lead, these bullets corrode and the lead leaches into the soil and groundwater. "We've been hired by the Army, Navy and Marines to come out to these sites and recover the expended bullets," said Jones. "We then send them to a lead smelter for recycling and reclaim the range for re-use."

Brice's patent-pending technology has been certified by the New Jersey Center for Advanced Technology, which examines emerging technologies to see if they are successful. The process also has been acknowledged in guidance documents relating to small arms firing ranges published by the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council.

According to Jones, the need for this type of remediation service will continue to grow. "The Department of Defense is currently inventorying small-arms firing ranges to see how many they have, and to rank the different locations in order of environmental threat," he said.

Already, the company has cleaned up an indoor firing range at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, as well as completed firing range projects in Louisiana, California, New York and Texas. They recently spent a year on the Massachusetts Military Reservation treating contaminated water for explosives and heavy metals.

"In terms of emerging environmental contaminants, firing ranges have become a growing concern, not only in Alaska, but all over the country," said Jones. "As people become more concerned with lead contaminating their soil and water, they look to companies who can remove this lead from the environment."

Though much of Brice Environmental's work is done outside the state, they have also provided successful remediation services within Alaska, including recent projects outside Healy and at Fort Greely. "At Fort Greely, we excavated and packaged radioactive soil that had been contaminated by a small nuclear reactor that the Army had at the site cons ago," said Jones.

The company also removed PCB-contaminated soil from an old coal-processing facility in Suntrana and shipped it out of state. "The first thing we did was inspect all of the old buildings for hazardous materials like asbestos and oil, and then demolished them," said Jones. "There was PCB-contaminated soil on site, so we dug it up and shipped it to a waste-disposal facility outside the state, since there are no certified landfills for that type of material in Alaska."


While many companies are taking advantage of environmental remediation companies to deal with their hazardous wastes, the military is taking the lead in cleaning up their own waste sites in the state. There are currently 603 Formerly Used Defense Sites, or FUDS, in Alaska, 130 of which require remediation.

"Each property can have more than one project, so we have a total of 147 projects requiring work," explained Dr. Mollie L. TeVrucht, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District's FUDS program. "It's estimated that it will cost just over $1 billion to complete."

FUDS are defined as property that was owned, leased or possessed by the U.S. under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Defense prior to Oct. 17, 1986. This definition also includes manufacturing facilities owned by the Department of Defense, but operated by contractors. Currently, Alaska has the third largest FUDS program in the nation.

In Fiscal Year 2006, $28.8 million has been budgeted to deal with a number of sites, including remedial actions at Cold Bay and in Hoonah, and removal actions at Cape Sarichef and Umiat. More than $4.7 million will be spent on Kodiak Island for removal actions at Drury Gulch, Buskin Beach and Bruhn Point, and more than $1.7 million will be spent on remedial investigations and feasibility studies at the Eielson Farm Road AAA Site, Kodiak Building A711 and at the Kodiak Airport Staging Area. Roughly $300,000 will be spent on a site inspection of the Haines Fairbanks pipeline.

"We are just now developing the list of projects for next year," said Dr. TeVrucht. "The general approach is 'worst first'--we consider the type of contamination, the likelihood that the contamination will move or spread, and whether there are people, animals or plants in the area."

According to Dr. TeVrucht, sites are prioritized through a Department of Defense relative risk evaluation, in addition to input from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Though the 2007 budget has not yet been finalized, it is currently budgeted at $27.1 million, or $16.1 million if no congressional plus-up is provided.

Though it may seem like an overwhelming task to clean up all of the FUDs sites, projects are moving ahead, with 11 projects completed in the last year alone. There are success stories as well, including Moses Point Garrison, located approximately 100 miles east of Nome on the Seward Peninsula.

"In 2005, two remedial action projects were executed simultaneously at the Moses Point Garrison-one was a project to remove drums of liquid asphalt material, and the other was a project to remove asphalt- and fuel-contaminated soil," said Dr. TeVrucht. "The excavation and offsite disposal of drums and contaminated soils eliminated contaminant sources, thereby removing the potential for migration of contamination to local surface water resources, including a subsistence fishing area. Due to the remote location, executing the projects simultaneously saved between $500,000 and $1 million in mobilization costs." The project is expected to close out within a year.


Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, Superfund was established by Congress as a way to eliminate the health and environmental threats posed by hazardous waste sites throughout the nation. In Alaska, a number of sites have been identified and placed on the National Priorities List, or NPL, and are currently in the final stages of cleanup.

"The government agencies have gotten their budgets and summer work is beginning now," said Jacques Gusmano, remedial program manager, Superfund, EPA Anchorage. "The Corps of Engineers will be spending about $35 million on Superfund projects in 2006, and the 611th Civil Engineering Squadron has budgeted $30 million to spend on 36 projects in 2006 and 2007."

While these agencies spend most of their money on the cleanup of smaller, remote sites, the military is expected to invest in the cleanup of larger sites as well. According to Gusmano, Elmendorf Air Force Base will spend between $1.5 million and $3 million on their major installations, as will most of the military branches. In Alaska, military bases included in the Superfund list include Adak Naval Station, Eielson Air Force Base, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright. Non-military sites include Arctic Surplus, and Standard Steel & Metals Salvage Yard in Anchorage.

"No further action needs to be taken at Standard Steel, and it is as good as deleted off the list," said Gusmano. "We will also be sending a letter to the state asking for acceptance of the de-listing procedure for Arctic Surplus, which I expect to see off the list by the end of 2006."

According to Gusmano, though it is estimated to take approximately 10 years to finish the majority of Alaska's Superfund sites, some military sites may take 20 years or more. "The military is upgrading right now, and both Fort Wainwright and Elmendorf Air Force Base are growing," he said. "It's going to take them awhile to close their landfills."

Meanwhile, other environmental improvements will continue to take place. In 2006, the EPA approved two brownfields grants to Alaska to help empower local communities to clean up waste sites that can then be recycled for industrial use. Unalaska received $200,000 to clean up an old power plant, and Fairbanks received a $400,000 grant to clean up an old landfill.

Though many of these projects will still be under way years from now, Alaska is steadily making progress in its battle to clean up the hazardous wastes that threaten its land and water. This will in turn make the state a better place for people to visit, and to live.
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Author:Orr, Vanessa
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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