SUPERFUND: Contractor building units uncovered a variety of contaminants.
AP-FAIRBANKS — The Army says a contaminated site on Fort Wainwright has been cleaned up at a cost of $15 million.
The site is designated for housing but soldiers will have the option of living elsewhere.In a year and a half, contractors pulled out more than 300 tons of scrap metal, 1,000 tar and petroleum drums and 3,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil.The metal was a mix of training munitions, inert bombs, tank treads, old rocket fins and parts of bazooka rounds.
The contaminant was PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyls, no longer produced in the United States.
The Army plans to use duplexes to house troops and their families at the site. Joe Malen, a civilian employee for Army Alaska, said Taku Gardens, due to open next year with 110 units in 55 buildings, will be some of the safest quarters around.
"The whole object of this drill is to make sure this site is as clean as possible so we don’t expose our troops or their families to any type of hazard," Malen said.
The land had been designated a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
At a meeting Tuesday to update post residents on cleanup, Malen flipped through photos of duplexes standing empty as backhoes raked earth near foundations. The pictures showed contractors sifting through soil for metals.
"How do we know it’s clean? I don’t see anything, and we’re just about down to groundwater," Malen said, pointing to a photo of a hole 5 to 18 feet deep, surrounded by houses yet to be homes.
Only about five people showed up for the meeting. Malen and Fort Wainwright public affairs officer Linda Douglass said that after initial concern, people have not been asking many questions.
Malen said the evidence of extensive remediation probably assured people the homes will be safe. The Army also has 81 monitoring wells in the 54-acre development.
Desperate for modern housing in the early 2000s, the Army selected Taku Gardens to avoid wetlands and permafrost in other areas. Construction started in 2005, then stalled when a contractor unearthed foul odors while building a foundation.
The quantity of PCBs was "significant," Malen said.
"It got to be bigger than they really expected," he said.
Construction workers were pulled from the job for hospital tests, while response crews wiped surfaces of houses, trucks and tools to test for more contamination.
Originally scheduled to open in 2006, the duplex project was halted as contractors dug out PCB-contaminated soil.
Electromagnetic sweeps of the area revealed more than PCBs. Some sections were dense with buried metals. Tentative exploration uncovered training munitions, inert bombs, petroleum and tar drums.
Some contamination seeped from temporary barracks in the northwest corner, where Air Force and Army units were housed during construction. Most of the metals were unearthed across a wide swath on the eastern side.
The dangerous PCBs turned up in the southwest corner. Officials have not been able to document what the area was used for but aerial photography suggests an antenna field. That could mean the acreage housed an Air Force Secret Security Service communications facility, Malen said.
"We can’t find anything out; it’s still classified," he said. "That’s just a guess, but it’s the best guess we have."
‘NO HEALTH RISK’
Even cleaned of PCBs and buried munitions, Taku Gardens sits above contaminated water that is continuously monitored. So far, hazardous material has not seeped into the nearby Chena River, salmon breeding water that leads to the Tanana and Yukon rivers, or even out of the immediate area, Malen said.
"It’s bad from an environmental standpoint, but it doesn’t pose a health risk," he said.
Soldiers who choose to live in the housing development will face digging restrictions. The post also hopes to smooth worries by designing raised beds for flowers, Malen said.
Douglass said the Army is confident in the thoroughness of the cleanup, and she "absolutely trusts" steps taken to turn the Superfund site into a safe neighborhood.
Contractors are still testing and monitoring the area to make sure they have left nothing bad behind, Malen said. A report on the cleanup effort will be forwarded next week to the Army’s remediation partners, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the EPA.