Washington, DC — The residents and wildlife of Alaska may be bearing health consequences from thousands of industrial and military waste dumps, according to a compilation of waste sites prepared for the Department of Environmental Conservation but never published. The report, entitled “Pollution and Cancer in Alaska,” was released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The report assembles all state records on nuclear, mining and military waste sites but makes clear that, while thousands of sites are known, thousands more pollution sites may be unknown. For example:
- The U.S. Department of Defense is responsible for “one-third of all active contaminated sites in Alaska.” In addition, there may be as many as 10,000 abandoned polluted defense sites;
- Hundreds of hazardous waste dumps are spread along Alaska’s coast and adjacent to lakes, streams and freshwater aquifers but the extent to which they may be contaminating drinking water is poorly understood. The vast majority (79%) of “rural Alaskans obtain their drinking water from small drinking water systems or private wells which are not currently monitored for toxic substances”; and
- There is no state inventory or monitoring of thousands of small landfills or industrial waste pits.
“While many parts of Alaska remain pristine, many other parts of The Last Frontier are profoundly polluted,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Unfortunately, the state is making no effort to assess the dimensions of this multifaceted toxic legacy or the effects on its people and wildlife.”
The report underlines the tremendous knowledge gaps about the effects of persistent pollution exposure on cancer rates, disease patterns as well as bioaccumulation of toxins in both humans and wildlife. The report surveys discrepancies in cancer rates and traces cancer clusters but argues for more systematic research before conclusions can be drawn.
Additional research will be hampered, however, by the absence of active monitoring of the vast majority of hazardous waste sites scattered throughout the state.
“The prevailing anti-pollution philosophy at the Department of Environmental Conservation seems to be don’t ask-don’t tell,” Ruch added pointing to a 2002 survey conducted among ADEC staff that reflected resource limitations, political interference and fear of retaliation limiting the agency’s environmental performance.