EPA Research in Alaska
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Resource: Technical support for site contamination in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force
With increased concern about the risk of per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, it is important to identify the source(s) of the contamination and manage/remediate the risk. To date, PFAS contamination has been observed at landfills, primary and secondary PFAS-related manufacturing sites, wastewater treatment plants, and emergency response and training sites where aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) were used for firefighting. The U.S. Department of Defense has identified hundreds of sites with potential AFFF contamination.
EPA ORD, in coordination with Region 10 (Pacific Northwest), is providing technical support for PFAS site characterization at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) in Anchorage. ORD previously provided a review of an Air Force work plan to collect groundwater and soil samples at JBER for PFAS analysis. ORD scientists will observe the collection of groundwater samples by an Air Force contractor, visit locations where samples have been collected, and collect wastewater and creek samples. ORD scientists will analyze splits of some samples to evaluate the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) analytical PFAS methods (ASTM 7968-14 and ASTM 7979-15). This will provide an opportunity to apply the ASTM methods to additional environmental matrices analyzed to date, as well as analyze samples for PFAS precursors. The resulting data from the Air Force and ORD can be used to decide further site characterization priorities.
Resource: Provide satellite derived measures of cyanobacteria, software and training in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
"EPA’s technical experts played a vital part in assisting the state of Alaska in understanding the risks of sulfolane in groundwater and the potential impacts to public health. EPA provided critical information on sulfolane mobility, toxicity and human health exposures that greatly assisted ADEC in making decisions on protecting residents. ADEC appreciates EPA for all their timely support and help by providing information on the best available science which was significant in Alaska’s response actions for sulfolane.”
– ADEC Division of Spill Prevention and Response Director Kristin Ryan
Sulfolane is an industrial solvent used in gasoline production and petroleum refining. The discovery in late 2009 of sulfolane in drinking water wells near the Flint Hills North Pole Refinery (about 15 miles east of Fairbanks, AK), led to an extensive investigation of contaminated groundwater. The groundwater plume is approximately 2 miles wide, 3.5 miles long and over 300 feet deep, rendering it one of the largest in the state, with many private properties impacted. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) began new animal studies on sulfolane in 2014.
EPA’s Region 10 (Pacific Northwest) requested that ORD conduct a Provisional Peer-Reviewed Toxicity Value (PPRTV) assessment for sulfolane. The information in PPRTV assessments can be used in combination with exposure information to characterize the public health risks of a given substance at a particular hazardous waste site. Importantly, these risk characterizations can form the basis for risk-based decision making, regulatory activities, and other risk management decisions designed to characterize and protect public health. EPA ORD finalized the PPRTV assessment in 2012.
At ADEC’s request in 2014, EPA ORD scientists participated in an independent, expert peer review workshop to discuss the available oral toxicity values/reference doses for sulfolane (including the PPRTV) and reach conclusions based on the available science. EPA ORD scientists provided essential technical support in the peer review workshop with respect to the scientific development process of the Sulfolane PPRTV assessment. This technical support assisted ADEC in their consideration of cleanup levels for contaminated groundwater. Ultimately, ADEC decided to wait to set a cleanup level for sulfolane until more data become available from the new NTP studies (target 2019), in order to best protect people from exposure. EPA ORD’s input provided ADEC with important information that will be needed for making a final determination.