Contaminant Legacy - Amchitka Island
following is adapted from a poster presentation by Jordan H. Stout, US Fish &
Wildlife Service Environmental Contaminants Program, Anchorage Field Office: Contaminated
military sites on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.
War Duties: Amchitka Island in the central Aleutian Islands was drafted into
military service during World War II. This island in the Alaska Maritime Refuge
became a forward fighter and bomber base for the Allies in January of 1943 in
the campaign to recapture the Japanese-held islands of Attu and Kiska.
a Small City: The facilities included living quarters, roads, runways and infrastructure
to support dozens of fighter planes and, bombers, as well as15,000 troops stationed
Underground Nuclear Testing: Cold War era activities on Amchitka
included a White Alice Communications Site (1959-61) and underground nuclear testing
including the Longshot (1965), Milrow (1969) and Cannikin Projects (1971). At
nearly five megatons, the Cannikin blast was the largest underground nuclear test
ever performed by the United States.
Cold War Radar Site: A Relocatable
Over The Horizon Radar (ROTHR) surveillance facility was operated on Amchitka
from 1987 until the system was abandoned but left in place in 1993. The island
has remained deserted since 1993 and no development (military or otherwise) is
The historic events left nearly 75 contaminated sites on Amchitka
under three responsible parties: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department
of Navy and Department of Energy.
Cleanup: Some of the cleanup issues include
chemicals, ordnance, contaminated drilling muds and radionuclides. Chemicals in
groundwater and soil include petroleum products as well as solid and hazardous
wastes. Sewage sludges in the sewage lagoon contain polychlorinated biphenyls
(PCBs) at levels up to 463 ppm.
DDT: DDT-related compounds have been found
in peregrine falcons, bald eagles and sea otters from Amchitka, although the source
of these compounds is not clear.
Ordnance: Thirty-nine potential ordnance
sites have been found, including practice ranges, defensive positions and storage
and disposal areas.
Legacy of Nuclear Testing: The underground nuclear
testing program on Amchitka produced well over 100,000 cubic yards of drilling
muds contaminated with chromium, diesel fuel and PCBs. About 40,000 cubic yards
of these drilling muds were contained within open reserve pits, many of which
attracted waterfowl and had been known to fail, spilling contaminated drilling
muds into adjacent wetlands and stream reaches.
Radionuclides: The nuclear
testing program also produced radionuclides, some of which (tritium) were released
during the Longshot blast and some of which may be released to the biosphere in
the coming years. The timing, location and extent of future releases of other
more persistent radionuclides are currently unknown.
Demolition, Burial, Removal: The 2001 cleanup involved 200 people
at a cost of more than $20 million. The Navy demolished 60 abandoned structures
and facilities; removed 47 fuel storage tanks; treated 2,500 cubic yards of petroleum-contaminated
soils; and remediated the sewage lagoon by shipping 2,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated
sludges off-island for incineration.
Detecting Ordnance: The Corps used
historic records, computer-aided aerial photographic interpretation techniques
and on-the-ground geophysical surveys to understand the nature and extent of the
ordnance contamination on Amchitka.
Ordnance Legacy: Napalm; 60 and 81
mm mortars; grenades; anti-personnel mines; 4, 20, 100, 250 and 500 pound bombs
or casings; incendiary bomblets; 20, 37, 90 and 155 mm projectiles; and various
smaller items have been found so far.
Radionuclide Monitoring: The Department
of Energy closed 12 drilling mud pits and, an underground storage tank, and is
currently developing a groundwater model and long-term marine monitoring program
for Amchitka to address potential radionuculide-related contamination issues.
Last updated:September 8, 2008