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State Proposes Groundwater-contamination Cleanup Levels for PFAS-related Substances

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed regulating a group of flourinated chemicals collectively known as PFAS, including some that have infiltrated groundwater in the Fairbanks area. DEC proposes to set a cleanup level for groundwater contaminated with the chemicals.

DEC is proposingto adopt a standard for five PFAS-related chemical compounds that would require groundwater contaminated with the chemicals to be cleaned up to a level of no more than 70 parts per trillion. The agency also proposes a less-stringent standard for a sixth related chemical.

DEC’s Sally Schlicting says the proposals follow an initial set of guidelines for two of the chemicals that the agency issued in 2016.

“Since then, we’ve started detecting these compounds in drinking water in drinking water in a number of communities and some other compounds, as well,” she said.

Most of the contamination in Alaska so far has been found around Fairbanksand North Pole. And it’s thought to have been mainly caused by the use of fire-suppressing foam at Fairbanks International Airport and airfields at Fort Wainwright and EielsonAir Force Base. Schlichting says DEC proposed the new regs last week because of those and other recent discoveries.

“It is because we’ve been seeing them turn up in communities around Alaska,” she said.

The 70-parts-per-trillion cleanup level is based on the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s health-advisory level for two of the most-commonly found types of PFAS. A DEC news release says the sixth PFAS-related compound the agency wants to regulate is considered less toxic, so the DEC is proposing a less-stringent cleanup level for that one. Schlichting says the agency is proposing to apply the standard to the PFAS-related chemical compounds out of concerns over the impact of exposure to the substances on human health.

Many experts say more testing is needed to determine the substances’ effect on people. But some advocates say there’s more than enough research already that proves the need for more regulation.

“The scientific literature provides extensive evidence of the health effects concerning these per- and poly-flourinated substances linked with serious diseases and adverse health outcomes,” says Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.

“There are solid epidemiological studies that show these chemicals are linked with kidney and testicular cancer, for instance, decreased birth weight, thyroid disease, decreased sperm quality, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension and – I could really go on,” she said.

Schlichting, a DEC policy and regulations manager, says only studies on animals have shown PFAS may cause cancers. Regardless, Miller says it’s been shown to cause many other health problems.

“One of the most serious effects that is occurring at the very low part-per-trillion level is immune effects in children that result in a decreased response to vaccination,” she said.

PFAS has in recent decades been used for numerous applications, from household products like fire-retardant clothing and non-stick cookware to many industrial processes.

Miller says she’s still studying DEC’s proposal and can’t say yet whether the agency’s proposed cleanup level is stringent enough to protect human health. She says she and the ACAT staff are working on a more detailed-response to DEC’s proposals. And she says the organization will present its findings to the agency by Nov. 5, the deadline for public comments on the proposals.

Editor's note: Members of the public may submit comments on DEC's proposed PFAS cleanup-level regulations by submitting written comments by email to or by fax to (907) 465-5245 or by mail addressed to:
Sally Schlichting
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
P.O. Box 111800
Juneau, AK 99811-1800

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.