DEC to spend $4 million on Wrangell junkyard cleanup

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation announced on Sept. 21 that it will spend about $4 million to clean up a former Wrangell junkyard site with high levels of lead contamination.

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An aerial view of the junkyard site four miles south of downtown Wrangell. (Photo courtesy of dec.alaska.gov)
An aerial view of the junkyard site four miles south of downtown Wrangell. (Photo courtesy of dec.alaska.gov)

Wrangell Economic Development Director Carol Rushmore says Wrangell initially got a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to test for contamination at the former site of the Byford junkyard, which is about four miles south of town.

“The assessment came in and said we had very high levels of lead contamination and EPA jumped on it, was trying to get some funds, and then the accident in Colorado happened and those funds were diverted and we were told it wasn’t going to happen.”

The accident Rushmore is referring to was when the EPA released waste from the Gold King Mine into a river in Colorado this summer. When federal funds were needed to clean up that mine waste, the state of Alaska took on the Wrangell junkyard cleanup.

According to a DEC memo, the lead level at the former junkyard site is so high that it warrants an emergency cleanup.

People living near the site could be affected by the high levels of lead in the ground. The EPA was planning to monitor lead levels in the blood of workers performing the cleanup due to the severity of the contamination.

The site was used as a junkyard for a few decades where people dumped cars, batteries, oil and scrap metal. No effort was made to properly store those items.

The City and Borough of Wrangell inherited the junkyard through a property tax foreclosure and cleared debris from the property. But it didn’t have the resources to excavate contaminated soil.