Contaminated soil found at military hospital site

Posted: Sunday, July 09, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- About 15,000 cubic yards of diesel-contaminated soil has been excavated at the Fort Wainwright site where a new hospital is being built, state and federal officials say.

Work is continuing while engineers wait for final test results that will determine cleanup procedures. The suspect soil has been piled in two large mounds encased with plastic sheeting.

''Bottom line is the hospital is not being built on contaminated soil,'' said John Schuman, an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Although government officials said the soil contains diesel, Fort Wainwright spokeswoman Linda Douglass said four analytical tests conducted by the Army were not conclusive.

Another site near the excavation area may also be contaminated, said Lynn Kuhl, a manager for the general contractor overseeing the first phase of the hospital's construction.

Greg Light, environmental specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said digging was halted on that second spot because workers feared diesel might enter the water table.

Testing is under way to determine how far down the diesel reaches or if it has already entered the water table. It is not immediately known where the diesel came from, Light said.

Workers discovered the contaminated soil in May while digging the hole for the new hospital's foundation, he said.

Douglass said the Army reported the find to the DEC upon discovery.

Fort Wainwright has had other environmental problems. The post has been an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site since 1990.

Pam Miller, program director with the Anchorage-based Alaska Community Action on Toxics, said health risks from diesel can vary depending on how old it is. Some diesel may contain benzene or toluene, which are highly carcinogenic, she said.

The Army must comply with DEC regulations in order to continue building.

If state cleanup standards are followed, the new hospital should not be delayed, Light said. The first phase of construction is scheduled to be complete by Christmas.

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