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Wrangell Junkyard


DEC Contaminated Sites contact: Sally Schlichting, Project Manager, 907-465-5076

Site Background and Description

The Wrangell Junkyard operated on the property as Byford Salvage from the 1960s until the late 1990s when the property was sold. The new owner barged out the marketable metal for salvage over a short period of time before abandoning the property, leaving large piles of metal and other debris and improperly stored hazardous materials including hundreds of batteries, transformers, tanks, drums and tires.

Between 2000 and 2004, EPA and DEC conducted limited site assessment work on the property because the responsible parties were unable to do so. However, much of the site was not accessible due to the large volume of debris/waste on the surface. In 2006, the City of Wrangell foreclosed on the property due to unpaid property taxes. Beginning in 2010, the City began clearing the metal debris from the site but lacked the financial and technical resources to conduct the necessary cleanup. Because of this, they applied for Targeted Brownfield Services from EPA to help address the site.

In 2014, EPA Region 10 conducted a Targeted Brownfield Assessment at the site on behalf of the City and Borough of Wrangell. The results, published in 2015, documented extremely high levels of contamination. Surface soil samples collected over a large area of the property contained lead concentrations over 10,000 mg/kg and as high as 50,000 mg/kg, or 125 times the DEC Method Two Soil cleanup level of 400 mg/kg. Additionally, sample results from subsurface soil, surface water, groundwater, marine sediments, and shellfish tissue contained elevated concentrations of lead and other contaminants. In spring 2015, EPA determined the site poses an imminent risk to human health and the environment and initiated plans to conduct a Time Critical Removal Action under Superfund, but the Gold King Mine release in Colorado subsequently became a higher EPA response priority. DEC concurred with the EPA determination that an imminent and substantial risk to human health and the environment is present at the site and in late 2015 initiated a state-led emergency cleanup of the site to address the risks.

Public Health and Environmental Concerns

Environmental sampling has identified extremely high levels of lead in surface soils, elevated concentrations of lead in surface water and groundwater, and trace concentrations of lead and other metals in sediments and fish tissue in the intertidal area downgradient of the site. The City and Borough of Wrangell has advised residents who might clam on the beach in front of the Byford property that shellfish harvested in this area could be contaminated with lead and other metals transported by water runoff from the Byford property. An evaluation by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Epidemiology Division has determined the levels of metals in the shellfish tested did not pose a risk to human health at normal rates of consumption. Additional risks are potentially posed to adjacent property owners due to contamination that may extend onto their properties. Left unaddressed, the site itself poses substantial risks to humans and ecological receptors from uncontrolled lead exposure.

Recent History and Current Status

In fall 2015, the Department approved a Contaminated Sites Program request to spend up to $3.9 million from the Response Account of the Oil and Hazardous Substance Release Prevention and Response Fund to perform an emergency cleanup at the site. During the initial stages of the removal action, the DEC contractor installed silt fences and impermeable berms along the edges of the property, redirected inflowing drainages and established collection points for the on-site drainages. During construction of an access road in 2016 large quantities of buried metal, rubber and wood debris were found. Although no new contaminants were found the volume of contaminated material requiring treatment was much greater than originally estimated; perhaps four times as much.

The state expected to have the contractor complete most of the work by late May of 2016 and to have the treated material removed and transported to a hazardous waste facility in Oregon. But when the estimated total volume expanded to over 18,000 cubic yards, the new plan became to treat soil and store it on-site.

Based on the elevated concentrations of lead and other petroleum contamination found in the soil DEC made source area removal a priority to prevent acute exposure risks onsite and continued offsite migration of contaminants. The lead and other contaminates posed an imminent and substantial risk to surface water, sediment and shellfish in a popular harvest area on Zimovia Straits.

The large volume of material to be treated also increased the estimated cost to $6.5 million. The contractors began treating the soil with Ecobond, a proprietary compound that reduces the solubility of lead in the soil. This protects both ground water and surface water. Done correctly and tested to make sure treatment was successful, the soil is then considered non-hazardous, and the soil can be stored locally in a permanent monofill repository.

In August 2016 DNR, one of the land owners impacted from the contaminated site, made available a former material site on Pat Creek Road located five miles south of the site to permanently store the material. However, the EPA, state, and city are currently determining the best storage option and the costs and funding to find a permanent storage solution for the soil—it may be at the DNR site or another suitable location.