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What is a Toxic Tour?
A Toxic Tour highlights specific locations where inadequate urban planning and poor decision-making by city officials negatively impact health and environmental outcomes for a given community. These sites contribute to the perpetuation of environmental injustice. The goal of the tour is to raise public awareness about these sites in an effort to motivate local, state, and federal officials to take action in shutting them down or take steps toward remediation. The Justice40rward ACAT & Fairbanks Tour highlights several areas of concern in the Fairbanks area.
Justice 40rward Fairbanks Area Toxic Tour Sites
North Pole Refinery operated between 1977 and 2014 using North Slope crude oil from the Trans-Alaska pipeline to make jet fuel for Eielson Air Force Base, heating fuel, and gasoline. Operations at the refinery resulted in numerous spills and leaks of hazardous industrial chemicals, including sulfolane, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), contaminated wastewater, and petroleum products. The contaminated groundwater plume extends at least 3.5 miles beyond the fenceline and is spreading to the north-northwest. It is about two miles wide and reaches a depth of over 300 feet, one of the largest contaminated groundwater plumes in the state. The plume is contaminating hundreds of wells and the drinking water of more than 7,000 people in North Pole, some of whom unknowingly drank the polluted water for over two decades. The most recent owner of the refinery, Flint Hills Resources Alaska, is a Koch Industries subsidiary.
Kimberly Lake is located northwest and downgradient of the North Pole Refinery. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation found that lake waters were contaminated with PFAS in 2018. Elevated levels of PFAS found in fish caused the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to issue an emergency order in April 2019 that closed the lake to fishing, and it is now restricted to catch-and-release only.
Eielson Air Force Base (EAFB) was established in 1944 and remains an active military base encompassing 19,700 acres. In 1989, the EPA included EAFB on the National Priorities List (NPL) of federal Superfund sites and among the most polluted sites in the nation. A 1994 assessment found 66 source areas of contamination. Operations at the base polluted groundwater with contaminants, including lead, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and PFAS. Soils and surface waters are contaminated with solvents, fuels, used oils, and PFAS-containing firefighting foams. At Garrison Slough, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides contaminate soils and sediments. Several lakes on base are closed to fishing because of PFAS contamination, including Polaris, Bear, and Moose Lakes. PFAS migrates off base and contaminates Moose Creek, Bathing Beauty Pond, and Piledriver Slough—these are all closed to fishing.
Community of Moose Creek: Approximately 750 people live in the community of Moose Creek, located adjacent to Eielson Air Force Base. The Air Force used aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) containing PFAS for firefighting training beginning in the 1980s. PFAS contamination migrated off base in groundwater, polluting both municipal and private drinking water wells. In 2015, the Air Force began sampling residential wells and found levels that exceeded EPA health guidelines. An exposure assessment study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry analyzed blood samples from 88 people living in 48 households. The study, published in 2022, found that levels of two PFAS (PFHxS and PFOS) were up to 7.7 times the national levels on an average age-adjusted basis.
U.S. Ecology Incinerator is located one mile from Eielson Air Force Base and burns soils contaminated with petroleum compounds and PFAS. OIT, Inc. established the Moose Creek incineration facility in 1990 to “thermally remediate” contaminated soils and other materials. In April 2019, it was acquired by NRC Alaska LLC. and incineration of PFAS-contaminated soil began in May 2019. Sampling in test trials revealed releases of hydrogen fluoride and PFAS substances in air emissions from the facility. The presence of PFAS in treated soils also demonstrated incomplete combustion of the PFAS-contaminated soils. Permitting decisions were made without adequate data concerning incomplete combustion, air quality implications, and potential cumulative effects on the health of the surrounding community.
Fort Wainwright encompasses 900,000 acres and is located on the eastern boundary of Fairbanks. It was established in 1938 to train soldiers and test equipment in arctic conditions. Past operations contaminated ground water, soil, and sediments. The Chena River flows through the contaminated area of Fort Wainwright and is important for subsistence, recreation, and sport fishing. EPA designated Fort Wainwright on the National Priorities List (NPL) as a Superfund site in 1990. Contaminants include solvents, PFAS, pesticides, herbicides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), explosive compounds, and petroleum-based substances.
Other toxic sites on the tour:
- Coal combustion facilities (Aurora Energy in downtown Fairbanks and the University of Alaska coal-fired power plant) and toxic coal ash disposal sites in and around Fairbanks.
- Trans-Alaska Pipeline as it traverses along the Steese Highway.
- Legacy mine sites and the proposed Manh Choh Mine transportation route along the Steese Highway.
Fox Spring: The Fox Spring is a historical and traditional water source that currently provides free, safe potable water to about 2,000 local residents year-round who depend on the spring as their sole and/or preferred drinking water source. It is maintained and routinely tested through funds raised by a local non-profit group, Friends of Fox Spring.