City Council Advances Ordinance To Help Residents Cope with Tainted Groundwater

Sep 12, 2017

The Fairbanks City Council on Monday voted 6-0 to advance an ordinance that if approved would help city residents and businesses deal with contaminated groundwater on the city’s south side.

Alaska Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Andrew Markham undergoes chemical-decontamination training during an August 2016 exercise at the Fairbanks Regional Fire Training Center. Markham is a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response specialist with the Guard’s 103rd Weapons of Mass Destruction-Civil Support Team based at Kulis ANG Base in Anchorage. The Fairbanks training center is used by emergency-service personnel from many local, state and federal agencies.
Credit U.S. Pacific Command

The ordinance would appropriate $100,000 to help pay for connecting homes and businesses affected by the contamination into the city’s water system. The ordinance also would pay a small stipend of up to $2,500 annually to help those that can no longer use their wells for drinking water.

The contamination was caused by perfluorinated compounds in fire-suppressing foam that’s leaked into groundwater around the city-operated Regional Fire Training Center, where firefighters and other emergency personnel conduct training exercises.

The council will consider final approval and hold a public hearing on the ordinance during its second September meeting.

But several people took the opportunity in Monday’s meeting to complain that the ordinance won’t provide enough help for residents affected by the contamination. Fatima Mancuso Lord says the two-year limit on stipends won’t pay anywhere near enough to help residents who live near the training center and whose health and property values were harmed.

Perflourinated compounds have turned up in many wells and drinking-water sources around the Regional Fire Training Center.
Credit Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

“I don’t know how you guys came up with the two years – that’s not what I was asking for or what I think is fair for the people exposed,” she told the council. “At a bare minimum, I think it should be for the time period that people were living in their residence while they’re being exposed.”

Mancuso Lord says for long-term residents like her family, the city should calculate stipends based on how many years people have lived in the area since 1984, the first year a type of firefighting foam that contained perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, began to be used at the training center, located at 1740 30th Ave. Use of the PFCs ended in 2004, city officials say.

Councilwoman June Rogers, who cosponsored the measure along with David Pruhs, said after the public comments she was concerned about complaints that the city wasn’t doing enough to keep residents informed about its response to the contamination. But Pruhs says he thinks that’s because of the level of concern many people feel over being exposed to contamination.

“We’re dealing with a highly emotional issue of both health and people’s properties that were contaminated.” Pruhs said.

Rogers agreed, adding “Yeah, very much so, yeah.” 

Pruhs urged residents who talked to the council to read the ordinance and come back to speak again during the public hearing and final vote during the Sept. 25 meeting.