Dunleavy administration kills regulations on PFAS water contamination cleanup

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed two lakes to sports fishing because of chemical contamination linked to products used in fire-fighting foam.

The press release did not mention the level of contamination in Kimberly Lake, which is northwest of the old North Pole Refinery, or Polaris Lake, which is on Eielson Air Force Base. It also did not mention that fish have been tested.

Fish and Game said: “Surface water in Kimberly and Polaris Lakes have tested to exceed EPA and DEC actions levels for PFAS. As a precautionary measure, Kimberly Lake and Polaris Lake are closed to sport fishing effective immediately, and will not be stocked until additional information becomes available.”

However, a page on the Department of Environmental Conservation website says that PFAS was found in Kimberly Lake water at 122 parts per trillion and in three fish in concentrations of from 16 to 68 parts per billion. There was a detailed press release from the health department in February advising Alaskans to avoid fish from Kimberly Lake.

Fish and game should have publicized this information.

The low-key handling of this closure is in keeping with a widespread effort by the Dunleavy administration to downplay the contamination issue and reverse DEC decisions made last year to take more steps to safeguard human health from the risks of PFAS contamination.

Much of the contamination in Alaska has been found near airports where a fire-fighting foam was used. The compounds have made their way into the ground water. Communities with drinking water impacts and contaminated sites identified so far include Fairbanks, North Pole, Eielson, Utqiagvik, Dillingham, Gustavus, Yakutat, Galena and King Salmon.

Jason Brune, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, has rejected regulations proposed last October under the Walker administration to protect drinking water.

Brune wants the state to sit back and allow the federal Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump to interpret the science and decide what Alaska ought to do. EPA says it is still studying the issue.

EPA released a plan in February that was cheered by industry and derided by consumer groups that said the Trump administration was moving too slowly.

Brune justifies inaction by saying the EPA plans to set a “maximum contaminant level” for PFAS and there is legislation pending in Congress that should guide actions in Alaska.

“DEC has pulled back its regulation plan from 2018 and will follow the lead of the EPA,” Brune said in a March 21 presentation to the Resource Development Council.

“There was a reg package that DEC had put forward last October. There was public comment received. Well, in light of the EPA moving forward with this MCL we have decided to pull that reg package. We are going to follow the lead of the EPA on it, see what they’re going to do, and make sure we’re all marching to the same, via the same drum. It is a major issue,” he told the RDC.

At that same meeting, Brune said he was “kind of happy” that DEC had found more than 50 regulation packages that it believes can be done away with as part of a campaign by the Dunleavy administration to reduce regulations.

Last August, DEC established rules on what level of PFAS contamination would require action—70 parts per trillion for the sum of five of the compounds—and moved to put those in regulation.

In the October press release, the state said this about PFAS: “The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is taking action to regulate a class of fluorinated chemicals known as ‘PFAS,’ which have been detected in drinking water in some communities in Alaska. DEC is proposing new cleanup levels for six PFAS in soil and groundwater, and is working with stakeholders on a statewide action plan for dealing with these chemicals and contamination from them.”

Meanwhile, the DEC website has not been updated to reflect the rejection of the regulations: “On October 1, 2018, DEC issued proposed regulatory cleanup levels for six PFAS in soil and groundwater for public comment. The comment period closed November 13, 2018. The department is now reviewing public comments prior to adoption of the proposed changes.”

In a Jan. 25 hearing in Juneau, Brune mentioned the Walker administration regulations to legislators, but gave no hint that they would be withdrawn. “I can assure you that we are reviewing the comments that came from the public and we have a responsibility to ensure that this issue doesn’t become the next Flint, Michigan issue in Alaska. So I’m committed to ensure that this issue’s taken care of.”

Instead of telling Alaskans that the EPA and Congress will eventually take care of this, Brune and other administration officials should say exactly why they opposed the state regulations on PFAS and why any delay is acceptable.

(If you want to contribute financially to this reporting project, you can do so here through PayPal. Or mail contributions to: Dermot Cole, Box 10673, Fairbanks, AK 99710-0673. Thank you.)

Screen Shot 2019-04-05 at 11.40.44 AM.png
Dermot Cole14 Comments