Division of Spill Prevention and Response


Haines-Fairbanks Pipeline Corridor - Sampling Information


Incident location map. Summary Date: January 29, 2004 Back to the Haines Fairbanks Pipeline main page.
Status: Active  
Location: Corridor between Fairbanks and Haines

DEC Contaminated Sites Contact: Tamar Stephens, Project Manager - 907-451-2131


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Contact: Rich Jackson - 907-753-5606


Alaska District - US Army Corps of Engineers website on their FUDS program.

(All photos by DEC, Interior photos taken 9/03, Haines area photos taken 10/03)

Grid with mile markers and sample vehicle

Each sample grid is marked with blue flags. Yellow signs, like the one shown reading "513", marked each mile of the pipeline for pilots to look for on their weekly surveillance flights during the years when oil flowed through the line.

Initial sampling for dioxin: a first look
The first phase of work to investigate the possibility of dioxin or other persistent chemicals remaining from herbicide use along the pipeline right-of-way was to collect samples and analyze them though a rigorous procedure. Due to the enormity of the task as well as the great expense of testing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed in June of 2003 to gather 20 samples from along the corridor. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation agreed to this plan as a preliminary investigation in determining if there is a problem and assessing its extent. For background, see the Haines Fairbanks Pipeline main page. How could only 20 samples detect the presence of dioxin along two strips of land 50 feet wide and totaling land 326 miles? Because spraying is likely to have occurred fairly uniformly along the route, and a sound set of criteria guided the selection of sample locations.

Many residents in the Haines area live along the corridor, and in response to requests for more sampling, the Corps announced in a public meeting in Haines in September that it would take an additional 4-5 samples, in addition to the two previously planned. Samples were collected in the Interior portion of the pipeline during the first two weeks of September. The locations between Haines and the Canadian border were sampled by October 23rd.

The Corps collected the samples, with technical oversight by DEC. The State allowed the Corps to do its own sampling rather than an independent party since the Corps had the expertise to meet DEC's quality control standards, plus DEC's project manager was present during the collection of each sample. Analysis was conducted by an experienced laboratory, and rigorous third party validation was provided to confirm accuracy of the results. The results of the analysis were used to determine the need for additional sampling, which did not prove necessary.

Portions of the eight-inch diameter pipeline remain along the route, but most has been salvaged. The route was cleared, and herbicide was used to keep it so, but it's not certain if Agent Orange was used, and if so, if it contained dioxin. In many areas vegetation has been reestablished. The presence or absence of vegetation, however, is not a good indicator of the presence of dioxin.

Criteria: The Corps conducted an extensive search of previous records, looking for any indication of where herbicides, particularly Esteron Brush Killer, might have been applied, handled or stored. Very little information was found. More helpful have been the accounts of people who were involved in the past in some way with the pipeline. The sample locations were picked using the following criteria and after discussions with a number of landowners and stakeholders.

  • All locations must have been part of the right-of-way of the Haines Fairbanks pipeline.

  • Because dioxin binds tightly to organic material, sites with the least possible amount of soil disturbance were sought.

  • Sites next to a road were ruled out since vehicle exhaust contains dioxin, which would interfere with results.

  • Locations near gardens, areas used for food gathering and recreation, and other places important to a community were given high priority.

  • Locations near streams were not chosen because it is likely that herbicide was not used within 500 feet of a stream. A set of procedures for applying herbicides was found in a 1968 report which specified spraying would

  • not take place that close to a stream.

sampling equipment

Method: "Composite samples" were gathered, assuming the herbicide was likely applied uniformly. A composite sample takes an "average" of the soil within given boundaries. A plot 50 feet square was marked, the width of the right-of-way, and 25 evenly spaced points within the boundaries were flagged. One of the two Corps personnel used a hand auger to allow access to the soil 1 to 2-inches below the surface, and then a stainless steel spoon for each of the 25 spots was used to gather a spoonful of soil. Twenty-five spoonfuls made the composite sample.

Use of hand auger to get soil for sampling

All personnel who entered the grid wore disposable Tyvek booties over their shoes to avoid cross-contamination, since the levels of dioxin sought are very low. Samplers also wore safety glasses and disposable nitrile gloves. Yellow Tyvek suits were used at times, as rain gear and for high visibility during hunting season.

Pipeline by house



One criterion for picking sample locations involved land use. Some houses are situated along the corridor, like this one (photo to left) built right next to the pipeline. These were of particular concern.


Sample site, on corridor used by ATVs






The pipeline corridor is at times used for hunting and other off-road recreation. Any health effects from exposure to dioxin or other harmful chemicals, would be related to how often one is exposed. Recreational uses of the land would involve much less frequent exposure than residential use.

background sample plot



Eighteen pipeline corridor samples were taken between Fairbanks and the Canadian border. Four background samples came from nearby land presumably not exposed to herbicide use, for comparison purposes. This at right is one such site. Five corridor and two background samples were taken between Haines and the Canadian border in October. 


Sampling in the rain

Sample location at Skyline Estates






Dioxin is almost insoluble in water, so there is a very low probability of it leaching in soil to groundwater. Its chemical structure allows it to bond with other organic matter, like that common in the top few inches of soil. Once applied, there it would remain until it is broken down by sunlight. Herbicide spraying of the pipeline would have ended 30 years ago.

The pipeline began at a tank farm at tidewater in Haines, Alaska, and proceeded over a hill above the town, the current site of a subdivision. One sample was taken in the corridor in the subdivision (photo at lower left), which is used for various recreational purposes.


Sample location in a berry patch by Klukwan




It is still not clear whether the pipeline route was really sprayed with Esteron Brush Killer, or "Agent Orange", and if so, whether or not the batches used were contaminated with dioxin. Efforts to locate historical records on herbicide use along the pipeline proved fruitless.

Another sample location in the Haines section was in a berry patch near the village of Klukwan.

The results of the sampling are summarized in a report written by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and released late January. You can download the reports on the main page.

Back to the Haines Fairbanks Pipeline main page.