Army Seeks ‘Data Gaps’ Over Cleanups at Old Chem/Bio-warfare Site Near Greely

Feb 3, 2014

Environmental officials are reviewing cleanup work that’s been done at a military test site south of Delta Junction. The Army tested chemical- and biological-warfare agents at the site during the height of the Cold War. The state and military want to round up all available information on cleanups that’ve been done at the Gerstle River Test Site and surrounding area to ensure it doesn’t pose a threat to human health.


The Army created the 20,500-acre Gerstle River Test Site in the early 1950s to determine how high explosives and chemical- and biological-warfare agents would work in the Arctic. The site is about 35 miles southeast of Delta, within a few miles of where the Gerstle flows into the Tanana River.

Soldiers outfitted in protective outwear at the Gerstle River Test Site mug for the camera in this undated photo that probably was taken during the late 1950s.
Credit Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Substances tested at the site include mustard gas; nerve gas, including Sarin, and the biological agent tularemia.

The Army conducted several cleanups around the site was used before and after it was shut down in the early 1970s. It also monitored and periodically tested the area. But Army officials aren’t sure whether they’ve compiled all the data that’s been collected, and whether they know all there is to know about the site. So they’re taking another look at the issue to plug the “data gaps,” says Brian Adams, the project manager with Fort Wainwright’s environmental office.

“Plugging those holes is key to doing cleanup of the site,” Adams said.

The Gerstle River Test Site is located about 35 miles southeast of Delta Junction, east of the Alaska Highway. It's adjacent to a 65,000-acre test site expansion area, which the Army has given back to the State of Alaska.
Credit U.S. Army

Guy Warren is an environmental program specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation who’s working with the Army on the data-gap analysis. He says the Army launched this latest round of studies on the site after it got funding for the project last year.

“They’ve hired a contractor that’s going back and looking through all the different reports  that we have on the test site, to kind of get a picture of what do we know today about the history, the use and the disposal of chemical weapons and other components on that property,” Warren said.  

Warren says this new round of analysis will pick up on the work of a previous round, which petered out about 12 years ago.

“I don’t think anything was ever really finalized with the public. There were still some questions out there about what may be left on the site,” he said.

Adams says the Army also is re-forming an advisory committee that was disbanded about 12 years ago, after Greely ended up on the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure list. He’s now looking for about 20 people to serve on the Restoration Advisory Board, And he’d especially like to get residents of Delta Junction, Healy Lake, Dot Lake and Tok to serve on the board.

“There’s knowledge out there,” he said. “There’s a knowledge base out there. People know things. They may have worked out there. They may have been on the sites at the time, whatever.”

Adams says that information, along with data that’s already been collected on the Gerstle River Test Site, will help Army officials decide whether to close parts of the site to entry – or, as he says...

“… Delineate some of those areas that you don’t really want to go into and play in. Like some of those disposal pits. You don’t really want to play in a disposal pit area,” he said.

Adams says access to the test site is currently open, and that it’s a popular place for moose hunting. The site also is still being used for training by Fort Wainwright soldiers.

Adams says anyone interested in service on the board must contact him by Friday.

Editor's Note: Persons interested in serving on the Gerstle River Training Site Restoration Advisory Board may contact Adams at Fort Wainwright’s environmental office, (907) 361-6623 or email send an email to pao.fwa@us.army.mil.

Correction: This story was revised to correct the name of the advisory group that's being formed: the Restoration Advisory Board.