Starrigavan Bay Sediments
|Summary Date: October 2008|
|Status: Active||Database Name: St Law Gambell Facility Wide,
St Law NEC Facility Wide
(individual sites also have database entries)
|Location: Saint Lawrence Island, Alaska|
| DEC Contaminated Sites Contact: Curtis Dunkin, Project Manager - 907-269-3053
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Contact: Carey Cossaboom, Project Manager - 907-753-5665
Aerial view of the Northeast Cape Headquarters facility looking toward the east. | All of these building were removed and disposed off-island in 2003.
Two Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) are located on Saint Lawrence Island. The U.S. military stationed forces in and around Gambell during and after World War II. The Air Force operated an Aircraft Control and Warning Station in Gambell from 1948 to 1956. The site was abandoned after a similar facility was constructed at Northeast Cape on the island. Located about 50 miles from Savoonga, the nearest village, the Northeast Cape site included a White Alice Communication Site and operated from 1957 to 1972. The landowners are the Sivuqaq Native Corporation (Gambell) and the Savoonga Native Corporation. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for cleanup at the sites through its Formerly Used Defense Sites program.
The Gambell site is subdivided into 38 separate areas. The majority of contamination was petroleum-impacted soil. There were also areas of low concentrations of dioxin (below cleanup standards) and reported unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Troutman Lake. Construction debris, military equipment and small quantities of hazardous substances have been removed through the Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP). Additional areas with buried material are reported to exist around the village. An investigation of the groundwater near the village water supply (Site 5) detected a low-level concentration of diesel range organics (DRO) in one monitoring well in 1998. Subsequent sampling has not found DRO in the well, and testing of the water supply well shows no detectable contamination.
Northeast Cape is subdivided into 29 separate areas in addition to the White Alice site uphill about ½ mile from the Headquarters Area. Large areas at Northeast Cape are contaminated by petroleum in the soil and groundwater. An estimated 180,000-gallon diesel fuel spill in 1969 impacted a nearby river drainage. Scattered PCB contamination exists in soil in some areas. Isolated detections of generally low concentrations of volatile organic compounds, pesticides and metals have been noted. Some sediment in the nearby river drainage basin is also impacted with PCBs. Fish (Dolly Varden) sampled from the drainage were found to contain PCBs at concentrations slightly above the ingestion levels recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. All the buildings, above ground structures and debris have been removed, including those at the White Alice site. Nearby areas are used occasionally for subsistence food gathering.
Public Health and Environmental Concerns
The community has expressed concern over cancer rates and a possible link to former military sites at Northeast Cape. There has also been concern over possible impacts to subsistence foods, such as reindeer and fish, from the area. At Northeast Cape there is limited human presence. A nearby fish camp has intermittent summer residents. In August 1999 the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry – a branch of the U.S. Department of Public Health – visited both communities and began a health consultation. Their draft report, released in September 2000, showed a quite low risk from consumption of reindeer. It noted concerns, however, about fish consumed from the Suqitughneq Creek, which drains the site, and nearby drainages. The agency suggested residents avoid eating fish from the drainage until a more comprehensive effort was completed, however resident fish are not currently used from the Suqitughnrq River as they are too small for subsistence use.
The Army Corps began a risk assessment in 2001 to gather the missing data and discover any risks involved. Assessing risk involves considering many details such as the type of food consumed, how often it’s consumed, the contaminant levels, and the health sensitivities of the people who consume the food. DEC and the Corps worked extensively with the community during the three years it took to complete the risk assessment, learning that island residents don’t eat fish from Suqitughneq Creek. They do, however, fish along another creek in the drainage. Also, the species of fish that people consume are migratory species. This means that fish don’t stay in the stream their whole lifetime and could pick up contaminants from other sources than that drainage.
The risk assessment also looked at the risk if future use of the area increased, and these factors will be considered as decisions are made about sites where cleanup is not yet complete.
At Gambell, the majority of contaminants were petroleum in soils. There were also low levels of dioxins. Buried debris which occasionally surfaces from erosion or new construction has been a safety concern in the community. Four-wheeler accidents have reportedly occurred due to exposed surface debris. Tests for unexploded ordnance performed in 2000 found scattered individual small arms ammo, but none at suspected sites in village or in Troutman Lake. Groundwater tests surrounding the Gambell public water supply well have shown that no contamination from military sites is reaching the well. The water system is tested frequently and meets drinking water standards.
DEC continues to work with the community and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the characterization and cleanup. As individual sites are addressed, they are cleaned to meet current environmental standards. The community has had concerns throughout cleanup and has been active during the process. The Restoration Advisory Board received federal Technical Assistance for Public Participation (TAPP) grants between in 2001 until 2008 to hire someone to help them understand the technical aspects of the process and to help review the many associated documents.
Approximately $47 million has been spent so far to clean up contamination, demolish old buildings and remove debris. Another $27 million has been programmed to complete the work there. Some areas still have contamination over regulatory levels.
The Army Corps began removal of contamination and debris in 1999. They removed some areas of soil contaminated with low levels of dioxin. The community of Gambell has been most concerned with the remaining debris. The Corps does not considered buried debris eligible for funding under its Formerly Used Defense Sites program. The Native Village of Gambell subsequently received several grants from the Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program (NALEMP) to fund additional debris cleanup at Gambell between 2003 and 2008. The Gambell NALEMP project was the largest in the nation, with 290,000 pounds of buried debris removed in 2006.
Seven million dollars have been spent so far on investigation and cleanup at Gambell. As the investigation and remedial work has progressed, new areas of contamination were reported or discovered, lengthening the process. The Corps issued a Record of Decision for Gambell, signed by DEC, in 2007; this allowed DEC to approve closure of all 38 Formerly Used Defense Sites at Gambell. All sites with containerized hazardous and toxic waste were disposed off the island.
The Northeast Cape White Alice Communications Facility looking east. This site is about 1/2 mile up hill from the Headquarters Area shown at the top of the page. All the structures including the antennae were removed in 2003 and disposed off-island.