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Residents and Property Owners Information on Sulfolane

Updated: February 20, 2018

Agreement Reached on Piped Water Extension

Flint Hills Resources Alaska and the State of Alaska announced on February 7, 2017, that they will be working with the City of North Pole to significantly expand their piped public water system to provide sulfolane-free drinking water to residents impacted by the sulfolane groundwater plume.

Notice

This Notice to the public provides information about areas of contaminated groundwater in and near North Pole, Alaska. Releases of sulfolane at the former North Pole Refinery contaminated the groundwater throughout much of the City of North Pole and beyond the city boundaries. The sulfolane contamination affects many residents, homeowners, and landowners and is expected to remain in the groundwater for many years. The area of groundwater carrying sulfolane is approximately 2 miles wide, 3.5 miles long and over 300 feet deep, making it one of the largest areas of contaminated groundwater in the state. Maps that indicate the plume boundaries are available on the Maps page.

If you live in the area of the plume and have concerns about your water, contact the Groundwater Office of Flint Hills Resources Alaska (FHRA) at 907-488-0723 or groundwater@fhr.com.

This Groundwater Notice is intended to help ensure that the affected community is aware of the contamination and appropriate safety precautions.

Specific purposes of this Groundwater Notice are to:

  • Notify land owners, tenants, businesses, residents, real estate agents, and prospective property buyers of the contaminated groundwater;
  • Protect the community from exposure to contamination, and
  • Provide information to help the community understand the contamination and its implications.

To avoid exposure to contamination in the areas covered by this Notice, please contact ADEC prior to installing any water wells or digging excavations that could encounter groundwater. For additional information, please contact ADEC at 907-451-2117, or the FHRA Groundwater Office at 907-488-0723 or groundwater@fhr.com

What are the Risks?

The biggest potential risk to the public from sulfolane groundwater contamination is by drinking water contaminated with sulfolane. Since the 2009 discovery of sulfolane in drinking water wells, Flint Hills Resources Alaska (FHRA) has mitigated this risk by providing water or point-of-entry treatment systems to affected homes and businesses with any detections of sulfolane. In addition, bottled water is currently provided to properties in a "buffer zone" outside of the area of sulfolane contamination.

  • If your water is delivered to a tank or if you are connected to city water, you are not at risk of drinking sulfolane contaminated water.
  • If you are being provided bottled water, you are not at risk of drinking contaminated water.
  • If you have a point of entry treatment system provided and maintained by FHRA, your water is safe to drink.

Common ways in which properties sulfolane may be impacted by the sulfolane groundwater contamination are described below, along with measures that can be taken to prevent exposure to the sulfolane.

Health Recommendations from the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services

Possible impacts to properties within the sulfolane plume

Well Water
On many properties in the North Pole area, wells drilled into the ground provide water for drinking, cooking, showering, gardening, etc. If your well taps into contaminated groundwater and you are not using a home treatment system, then your water supply may be contaminated with sulfolane.
Flint Hills Resources Alaska (FHRA) and the State of Alaska are working with the City of North Pole to significantly expand the piped public water system to provide sulfolane-free drinking water to residents impacted by releases of sulfolane from the former North Pole Refinery. See more on the North Pole Piped Water Expansion.
If you live in the area of the plume and have concerns about your water, contact FHRA's Groundwater Office at 907-488-0723 or groundwater@fhr.com, or contact ADEC at 907-451-2117.
Indoor Air
Sulfolane does not vaporize into air and therefore does not present a risk to the indoor air of homes and buildings.
Bringing subsurface contamination above ground
Excavations, washing cars, and watering lawns and gardens are ways to bring sulfolane to the surface and possibly cause exposure. However, because sulfolane does not vaporize into air, nor does it stick to soil, washing cars and watering lawns will not cause significant exposure to sulfolane.
Vegetables irrigated with water containing sulfolane have been shown to take up sulfolane. North Pole residents are encouraged to follow the DHSS recommendations regarding edible plants.
Excavations for development and utility maintenance frequently require dewatering to lower the water table in support of the construction activity. Special permit conditions apply for dewatering conducted close to contaminated sites. If dewatering is needed within 1,500 feet of areas covered by this Groundwater Notice, please see this document:

Disclosure of Contamination in Property Sales and Rentals

Sale of residential property: Alaska law requires that, during the sale of residential property, any environmental hazard must be disclosed to a prospective buyer before completing the sale (Alaska Statute (AS) 34.70.010). Disclosure forms are available through the following link on the Alaska Real Estate Commission's website.

Sale of commercial or industrial property: Prospective purchasers are encouraged to hire environmental professionals to perform Phase I/II Environmental Site Assessments (ESA). The American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) has developed the industry’s Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessments

Landlords and Tenants: Property owners who are landlords and provide rental properties to tenants should use reasonable care to inform tenants and provide remedies for environmental hazards as outlined in the Alaska Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (AS 34.03.010 – 34.03.360), and must supply clean and reliable water and safe and habitable living conditions. For more information, please consult the Department of Law's website and their publication "The Alaska Landlord & Tenant Act: What it means to you." Note: this law and the supporting document are both subject to change. To request a copy of the booklet, call 907-269-5200 or toll free 888-576-2529. You can also email your request to consumerprotection@alaska.gov.

For more information on sulfolane contaminated groundwater, please contact ADEC’s Contaminated Sites Program at 907-451-2117.

You may seek the service of an environmental professional to evaluate the nature of contamination and any potential risks associated with the specific property under consideration.

Additional Resources

Fairbanks North Star Borough

DEC's page on Contaminated Real Estate in Alaska

Greater Fairbanks Area Contaminated Groundwater