News-Miner opinion: Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor is suing the 3M Company, E. I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., and dozens of other firms for the release of two specific synthetic manmade environmental contaminants into the state’s environment.
The lawsuit claims the companies knowingly designed, formulated, manufactured, marketed, distributed and-or sold perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that were then released into the environment. It seeks unspecified damages, claiming, among other things, that the defendants designed defective products; failed to warn the state of Alaska, other downstream handlers, and the public of the potential harm of products containing PFAS; and engaged in deceptive trade practices.
The chemicals commonly are used in firefighting foam at airports around the world, including those in Alaska. Much of the contamination in Alaska is linked to the foam being used in real fires or training.
As the News-Miner reported last year, the Department of Environmental Conservation has a list of 94 active PFAS contamination sites in the state. Several are in Interior Alaska: Clear Air Force Station, four sites; Alyeska Pump Station 5 at Coldfoot, one site; Eielson Air Force Base, 29 sites; city of Fairbanks, five sites; Fort Greely, three sites; Fort Wainwright, one site; Galena, two sites; Alyeska Pump Station 7 on the Elliott Highway, one site; North Pole refinery, one site; Alyeska Nordale Storage Yard, one site; Alyeska Pump Station 10 at Paxson, one site.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health has found there are more than 4,700 types of PFAS compounds, and they are found in a “wide range of consumer products such as carpet treatments, non-stick cookware, water-resistant fabrics, food packaging materials, and personal care products,” a news release announcing the lawsuit says.
Research suggests exposure to high levels of PFOA and PFOS compounds could have several negative human health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy, effects to the immune system, changes to cholesterol levels and cancer.
While Congress in 2018 stopped requiring the chemicals’ use in aircraft firefighting foams as of October this year, the contaminants are persistent in the environment and water soluble. Large plumes of groundwater contamination can form where the compounds are released, fouling private or public drinking water wells. The chemicals have a long history of causing problems in Alaska.
The state, for instance, recently restricted fishing in Piledriver Slough and Moose Creek to catch-and-release after fish in the waterways were found to be contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Portions of the slough and creek are within or immediately downstream of the Eielson Air Force Base groundwater contamination plume. A number of waterbodies in and around the plume have been found, since 2019, to be contaminated with perfluorooctane sulfonate, PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, PFOA. Fishing and access on several lakes in the area already have been restricted or closed because of the contaminants.
There have been 15 sites identified as high risk just on Eielson Air Force Base where PFOS/PFOA have been released.
An elderly Fairbanks woman who lives near the Fairbanks International Airport is suing the state of Alaska, claiming her well water was contaminated by perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
With the chemicals’ history of contaminating waters in Alaska and the potential for much greater harm in the future because of their water solubility and persistence in the environment, the state’s lawsuit is perhaps overdue. It is time responsibility for the problem is ascertained once and for all.
Alaskans are being damaged, denied use of their wells and fishing spots. Their health is being jeopardized. It is good there will be a judicial record and judgment.
It will be good to finally learn what they all knew — and when they knew it.