Several environmental groups in Alaska are releasing a new report that consolidates scientific research and public testing results into Alaskans’ exposure to PFAS compounds. The 75-page document details the health risks associated with drinking or consuming low and moderate levels of the substances. It also identifies more than a hundred sites where PFAS has been found in Alaska.
PFAS is the umbrella term for per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds, which are widely used in commercial and industrial products. A growing body of scientific research connects them with health hazards like cancers, immune system problems, and developmental delays. Many of the sites in Alaska were exposed to PFAS compounds because of a firefighting foam used by the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration at airports and military sites.
At a press conference in Anchorage on Wednesday put together by the Alaska PFAS Action Coalition, Pamela Miller said the contamination represents “a very significant health concern.”
Miller is with Alaska Community Actions on Toxins, an environmental group that helped compile the report.
Overall, the report compiles scientific research, public agency reports, and community input to portray a public health problem that is only expected to get worse as more findings emerge.
Speakers from Fairbanks and Gustavus described high levels of PFAS found in drinking water that have eroded residents’ trust in the safety of basic resources.
“We’ve been working on this for a year and nothing has happened, so I’m sort of at a breaking point,” said Kelly McLaughlin, a resident and member of a PFAS group in Gustavus.
A spokesperson for the administration referred questions to the Department of Environmental Conservation. Denise Koch directs DEC’s spill prevention and response program, and said the state follows testing guidelines established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s really important that we base our standards on good science and rigorous science. That takes time, and that can be frustrating, I know,” Koch said.
“It’s important that our standards be based in science, and we’re doing that with using the EPA’s life-time health advisory, and we think that’s protective of public health,” she said.
Critics say those EPA guidelines are outdated, as more research has been published demonstrating health risks at lower rates of exposure than those set by the Trump Administration.
The coalition and report point to recommendations to better handle what is described as an emerging “public health crisis.” They include banning the use of PFAS compounds in firefighting foams, establishing a comprehensive monitoring program for natural resources like fish and water, and encouraging more community input in the regulatory process.