Army to start excavating former Delta dump site.

Posted: Monday, June 30, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to spend nearly $500,000 excavate a former military garbage dump site near Delta Junction.

The dump of a formerly used defense site near Fort Greely was used during the 1950s and '60s and could contain anything from household waste to more toxic substances from the era.

The work is to start in mid-July. It is unlikely that any leftover chemical or biological test equipment will be found in the dump since it appears to contain mostly household waste, said Shah Alam, corps project manager.

The Department of Environmental Conservation wants to be sure, said Greg Light, a military environmental specialist with the department.

''We're extra concerned about the dump because of past practices there,'' Light said.

Last year, the Department of Defense confirmed that the military, under a program called Project 112, sprayed nerve gas on Fort Greely land through which troops were transported.

They also sprayed what was believed to be a harmless bacteria, called bacillus globigii, onto nonmilitary land in the Tanana Valley where civilian populations could have been exposed. Later it was determined in further studies that the bacteria, related to anthrax, could cause acute infections in people with reduced immune systems.

Last October, then-Gov. Tony Knowles wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asking that the federal government fully disclose all information concerning the chemical and biological testing.

In a January response to Gov. Frank Murkowski, Undersecretary of Defense E.C. Aldridge Jr. said the corps has investigated the Gerstle River Expansion Area and the Gerstle River Test Site for nerve gas contamination. Only one site needed further investigation, which should happen this year, he said.

It's hard to be 100 percent sure what will found at the dump as human error can happen, DEC's Light said.

For instance, he said, in the winter of 1965 more than 100 chemical munitions were stored on a frozen pond called Blueberry Lake. They were forgotten until 1969, and the lake had to be drained and the munitions disposed of. Water analysis showed no contamination, according to an Army report.

It is highly unlikely anything used in the chemical and biological testing will be at the dump, but the corps is taking precautionary measures, Alam said.

Pam Miller, executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an Anchorage-based military contamination watchdog group, said she has been concerned about the dump for a long time.

''We've gotten anecdotal reports that chemical weapons were disposed there in an unlined pit,'' she said.

''There needs to be an extensive investigation of exposure to civilian populations, both people working on the base and those in surrounding communities,'' she said. ''They've just given us the tip of the iceberg. They have an obligation to the public. There should be a congressional investigation.''

The corps hired a man who used to be stationed at Fort Greely during the biological and chemical warfare testing to monitor the dump excavation. If he sees something suspicious, work will stop, Alam said.

''We have interviewed former workers and looked at other ... pits,'' Alam said. ''What it is, is mostly household garbage, soda cans or milk cartons or old newspapers.''

Paug-Vik Development Corp. will conduct the excavation and work should be completed by the end of July. A contractor report of the work will be finished by February, Alam said.

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