Fort Yukon Natives fight asbestos disposal plan

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Tribal leaders in Fort Yukon are planning to fight the state's decision allowing debris containing asbestos to be buried in a landfill near the village.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said Wednesday it will issue the Air Force a permit for the asbestos burial. DEC environmental specialist Nancy Sonafrank said that the Air Force's disposal plan exceeded state standards.

''We didn't feel there was any threat to public health, or the environment, that could be demonstrated,'' said Sonafrank.

The debris comes from the Air Force's demolition of several buildings at a radar site just outside Fort Yukon. The demolition has produced about 1,200 cubic yards of debris, which the Air Force wants to bury inside steel containers on its land about a mile from the village.

Opponents of DEC's decision have 30 days to request an appeal hearing. But the permit remains in effect during the appeal process and the burial could begin immediately, unless a court injunction is sought and issued.

''Even though they granted the permit, we're going to continue to fight it,'' said Angela Ludwick, executive director of the Native Village of Fort Yukon. ''The tribal council members have taken a stand and said -- firmly -- no. We don't want it buried here.''

Ludwick said the council's concerns include groundwater contamination, scavenging animals and the possibility that the debris will eventually resurface. Debris has surfaced from another Air Force landfill in the Fort Yukon area, she said.

Col. Mike Wyka, commander of the 611th Air Support Group at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, said the Air Force is coordinating with its contractor to begin the waste burial. Work could begin as early as next week, he said.

The containers contain as little as 1 percent asbestos fibers, the DEC said, and the fibers themselves are bound inside materials such as ceiling tiles and roofing shingles, which prevents their release into the air.

Asbestos is dangerous as an airborne contaminant, as tiny fibers of the material can be inhaled. Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other chronic lung diseases.

The asbestos being buried is an inert material that does not dissolve in water and will not move into the groundwater table, the DEC said.

Sonafrank, of the DEC, said the Air Force reported a cost of more than $1 million to ship the material away from the Fort Yukon area. The cost of burying it in the area was about $200,000, she said.

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