$9.5M in capital budget to study groundwater contamination across Alaska

From: Department of Environmental Conservation, a map showing contaminated sites across Alaska.
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska Legislature has approved spending $9.5 million to study the extent of groundwater contamination across Alaska, clashing with a change of regulations made by the Dunleavy administration in April.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that enter the water table, potentially leading to negative health effects including kidney damage, some cancers and reduced fertility. In Alaska, PFAS has been entering the water table most commonly through a foam used by firefighters at airports.

Lawmakers included $9.5 million in the capital budget to study PFAS contamination across the state and to develop a long-term clean up plan.

In April, the Dunleavy administration reduced the number of chemicals that would be tested and raised the level of toxicity required for water to be determined as unsafe to drink. At the time, the administration said it was putting the state regulations in line with federal guidelines.

"We know there’s been some uproar about the change, about the danger amounts,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, in a legislative hearing in May. “We’re asking DEC to do more analysis on the harm to the drinking water throughout our state.”

The language added in the capital budget would raise the number of chemicals tested by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Matt Shuckerow, the governor’s press secretary, said the governor was scrutinizing the capital budget and would make a determination on certain programs and the budget as a whole in coming days.

Sam Loud, a development specialist with the Department of Transportation, said the agency is currently studying all part 139 airports managed by DOT. The department has studied seven airports sampled for PFAS, but there is no timeline to study the remaining facilities.

"Until we know the extent of the PFAS contamination statewide we cannot speculate as to how much this will cost," wrote Loud in an email.

Recently, Shannon and Wilson, Inc., a company contracted by DOT, went to Dillingham, Yakutat and Gustavus to take samples for PFAS. Kristen Frieburger, an associate, said it would take roughly four to five weeks to get results from a certified laboratory in the Lower 48.

She said technology to remove PFAS from water and soil was limited and it’s an ongoing question how a clean up would occur.

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