Industrial Solvent Reaches Some North Pole Garden Plants

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

State tests show some North Pole garden plants watered from sulfolane-tainted wells carry the industrial solvent. State Division of Public Health Environmental Toxicologist Lori Verbruggee says initial tests on early harvest produce show the leafy parts of plants are more susceptible.

Verbruggee says that while rhubarb leaves contained sulfolane, the stems, the part people eat, did not.

Verbruggee says the levels of sulfolane detected in the leaf samples tested were measurable but   below a level of health concern.  She says the determination is based on toxicity levels determined for sulfolane in drinking water.

Verbruggee says tests indicate that sulfolane does not accumulate in the body, but adds that it’s possible that the solvent, like some other chemicals, could trigger effects that do not manifest until years later.  She says repeated exposure to sulfolane over the long term could also cause health problems.   The state plans additional sulfolane surveillance tests on mid and late season produce, as well as a longer term controlled greenhouse study.  Flint Hills Refinery is paying for the research.  Wells in an area of North Pole are contaminated from historic sulfolane spills at the refinery.  Flint Hills has been providing alternate supplies of drinking water to affected residents since the well issue was discovered last year.

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