State nears answers in North Pole sulfolane spill

From The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Wednesday, December 15, 2010:

The state’s environmental commissioner said Tuesday the state could know by February how deep a chemical solvent from a previous spill at the refinery in North Pole has permeated the ground in the surrounding community.

The Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies have worked for a year with the Flint Hills Refinery to study the issue, which is focused on a decades-old spill that predates the refinery’s current owner.

The spill sent sulfolane, an industrial solvent used to refine oil, into the soil. It later seeped into groundwater.

DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig said the team also is talking to national experts as it weighs the prospect of a toxicology study of long-term exposure and its health implications. Existing scientific literature is thin.

“There’s a lot of people at the table trying to help with these issues, and they take it very seriously,” Hartig told the Fairbanks North Star Borough Economic Development Commission.

The state estimates about 200 wells in and near North Pole are contaminated, but state environmental specialists indicate the levels may generally not be high enough to make people sick. The levels found in most contaminated wells are lower than levels shown by existing studies to cause harm to animals, DEC specialists said Tuesday.