The Tanana Chiefs Conference last week was awarded a $150,000 federal grant last week for a program that helps residents clean up and reuse contaminated sites around their communities.
When residents of Northway came across several old barrels sunken in a lake near the community south of Tok a few years ago, they didn’t know who to ask to find out whether they’d contaminated the lake. So they checked with the Tanana Chiefs Conference’s Brownfields Tribal Response Program.
“We helped work with Northway to help them get an assessment from EPA to go do a bunch of sampling at a lake and see if there was any contamination from some old barrels that were found there (Skate Lake),” says Kyle Wright, deputy director of environmental health for Tanana Chiefs.
Wright, who heads up the organization’s Tribal Response Program, says the $150,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency will enable Tanana Chiefs continue to help Native communities clean up problem areas.
“So if we get calls from a tribe that wants to deal with an old contaminated site, we’ll help them get started,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
The Tribal Response Program is part the EPA’s Brownfields Program, and it provides grants and technical assistance to Alaska Native and American Indian organizations, and state agencies, in assessing, cleaning up and reusing contaminated lands.
“Our 28 Tribal Response Programs are a really important component of the EPA Brownfields Program, in that they are really the boots on the ground out there in the communities,” says Christy Howard, an environmental program specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Howard works with the Alaska Native organizations that offer village-level councils help in cleaning up contaminated sites. She says the need is great in many towns and villages, especially those in remote areas.
– Christy Howard, DEC
“Because of the rural nature of a lot of communities in Alaska, there isn’t good waste disposal,” she said. “A lot of them don’t have permanent dump sites, so that can create a lot of problems.”
Howard says many communities also have old contaminated sites that were built or established by the military or other federal agencies. Wright says those are often the sort of contamination problems reported by people who live within the Tanana Chiefs’ region.
“There’s a lot of (what we) call them legacy sites,” he said. “They’re old, contaminated sites. Some of them are eligible for assistance (through) the Brownfields program.”
Wright says Tanana Chiefs’ program largely focus on the impact of contamination on human health. Howard says that’s also a key part of the statewide program, along with education and prevention.
“That’s a really important part of this program – a lot of education outreach to help prevent future Brownfields,” she said, adding that sometimes the assistance comes in the form of common-sense advice on precautions that can help residents save money and keep their homes and communities cleaner and greener.
“They’re out there doing outreach such as helping homeowners inspect their fuel tanks, to make sure they’re not leaking, or things like that, just so it can prevent contaminated sites in the future.”