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Resources for Property Owners, Residents, & Contractors

Updated: September 30, 2020

Historical activities on the former North Pole Refinery resulted in contamination of the property’s soil and groundwater by petroleum, sulfolane, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Groundwater containing sulfolane and PFAS has migrated off the refinery and impacted much of the City of North Pole, Alaska, and beyond the city boundaries. This webpage contains resources that may be useful for property owners, residents, and contractors who live or work in the area impacted by sulfolane and/or PFAS in groundwater.

Piped Water Extends to Properties Affected by Groundwater Contamination

The City of North Pole expanded their piped water system to provide a permanent protection from contamination in groundwater used as drinking water. By the end of 2020, all affected community members will have been able to connect to the service, phasing out the use of contaminated groundwater wells. DEC considers a public water system to be the best way to provide clean drinking water to those affected by contamination in groundwater, now and into the future, and encourages eligible residents to connect to piped water. The latest information available from the city about the piped water expansion project, including maps of the expansion area, may be found at the following:

Contaminated Groundwater Advisory

DEC issued a Contaminated Groundwater Advisory in November 2018 to property owners within the North Pole piped water expansion area, where many private water wells contain sulfolane and/or per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The advisory assists residents in avoiding unintentional contact with, or spreading of, contamination. 

While it is known that the spreading of pollution is not allowed under Alaska law, many may not be aware that using untreated, contaminated well water may cause the spread of pollution. Bringing impacted well water to the surface may expose people to the chemicals and/or allow them to spread onto other properties, sloughs, or ponds. In issuing this advisory, DEC is seeking the community’s assistance in minimizing the future spread of these contaminants.

Key points of the advisory include:

  • DEC advises eligible property owners to connect to the expanded water utility service. Connection to this service will protect the owner and anyone else on the property from any health effects that could be caused by exposure to contaminated well water.
  • DEC similarly advises against using untreated, contaminated well water after a property is eligible for connection to the water utility service. Stopping use of untreated, contaminated well water reduces spreading the pollution and eliminates human exposure. 
  • DEC is available to help property owners with the information in this advisory. You may call DEC in Fairbanks at 907-451-2143.

Please contact ADEC prior to installing any water wells or digging excavations that could encounter groundwater. For additional information, please contact ADEC at 907-451-2143.

How to Test your Water for PFAS or Sulfolane

If you are concerned you may have sulfolane or PFAS in your well water, DEC has prepared Fact Sheets to provide step-by-step advice for testing your water. DEC recommends you contact Brian Englund at (907-269-7526) or the Contaminated Sites Program at (907-451-2143) if you have any questions about testing.

Gardening Information

Within the sulfolane plume, residents on the city’s public water system are encouraged to use city water for gardening. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) recommends use of a clean, alternative water source for growing fruits and vegetables within the sulfolane plume. Further, in its Groundwater Advisory, DEC advises against using untreated, contaminated well water after a property is eligible for connection to the water utility service to reduce spreading pollution and eliminate human exposure.

Limited sampling of produce from North Pole gardens has been performed to evaluate the uptake of sulfolane and PFAS from water into plants.

In 2010, produce was sampled from North Pole gardens that used sulfolane-impacted well water for watering. The results were based on the testing of 23 types of plants from seven North Pole gardens. Results reaffirmed that some edible garden plants retain sulfolane from contaminated well water. Sulfolane levels in produce varied depending on the type of plant and part of the plant tested.

In 2018, DEC evaluated the uptake of PFAS into garden produce irrigated with PFAS contaminated groundwater. Produce and soil samples were collected from a farm in North Pole to evaluate impacts from irrigation water containing PFAS.

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 Consumer Protection.

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.

Managing Construction and Excavations within the Sulfolane Plume

Releases of sulfolane at the former North Pole Refinery have resulted in a contaminated groundwater plume that extends throughout much of the City of North Pole, Alaska, and beyond the city boundaries. The potential exists for development as well as utility maintenance projects within North Pole and beyond to be impacted by presence of sulfolane in groundwater when excavations require dewatering within the sulfolane plume boundary. A plan for managing excavation dewatering fluids in compliance with applicable regulations is necessary to reduce impacts on projects in North Pole and surrounding impacted areas.

An Interim Excavation Dewatering Management Plan, finalized in 2014 and updated in 2017, provides guidance for managing excavation water generated during construction dewatering activities in the vicinity of the North Pole sulfolane groundwater plume. The overarching management goals are to minimize the volume of contaminated water to be discharged and to manage the discharge so that it does not cause sulfolane contamination in areas that were previously uncontaminated. The Management Plan may be found at the following:

In 2018, PFAS was also discovered in groundwater off the former North Pole Refinery. The extent of the PFAS contamination has not been fully evaluated. The Interim Excavation Dewatering Management Plan does not address PFAS contamination. If you anticipate a need to dewater a trench or excavation in a region with PFAS-contaminated groundwater, contact the DEC Division of Water, James Rypkema, 907-334-2288.

A temporary water use permit administered by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) may also be require for groundwater extraction. For more information, see the following:

If disposal of extracted groundwater involves re-injection into the aquifer, additional permitting may be required. Contact DEC Division of Water, James Rypkema, 907-334-2288.

Additional Resources

Fairbanks North Star Borough

DEC's page on Contaminated Real Estate in Alaska

Greater Fairbanks Area Contaminated Groundwater

Division of Spill Prevention and Response's page on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

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