Contaminant Cleanup - Adak Island

Landfill on Adak - 196x300

The 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.


WWII Forward Base: American military forces swept onto Adak Island at the end of August 1942. On 10 September the first plane landed on their newly created airstrip. This national wildlife refuge island became a forward base in the 14-month-long Aleutian Campaign of World War II. The airfield at Adak in the central Aleutians halved the distance planes needed to fly to strike Japanese forces entrenched on the westernmost refuge islands of Attu and Kiska which they seized and occupied in early June 1942.

A Major City on the Tundra: At its peak during the war, the military population on Adak was nearly 90,000. The military continued their presence on the north end of the island and in postwar years the population peaked at about 6,000. In 1950, Adak was commissioned as a naval station.

Superfund Site: In 1994, the Adak base was placed on the National Priorities (Superfund) List. The base was closed in 1997 under the Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) Act of 1990. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transferred about 47,000 acres of the formerly used defense site to the Aleut Corporation in 2004 in exchange for Native-selected land elsewhere within the Alaska Maritime Refuge.

Contaminant Issues

Above and Below Ground: Some of the cleanup issues on Adak include chemicals and ordnance. Chemicals in groundwater and soil include petroleum products, toxic metals and solid and hazardous wastes.

Wildlife and Toxins: PCBs and DDT-related compounds have been found in green-winged teal, bald eagles, sea otters and mussels from Adak although the source for these compounds is not clear.

Ordnance Hazards: The 193 potential ordnance sites identified on Adak include practice ranges, defensive positions, minefields and storage & disposal areas.

Cleanup Actions

Although much of the chemical contamination on Adak has been remediated, petroleum and ordnance contamination remain on-going issues. The Navy continues to do remediation.

Ordnance - Continuing Problem: To understand the extent of ordnance contamination on Adak, the Navy uses historic records, personal interviews, aerial photographs and on-the-ground geophysical surveys. Ordnance items found to date include: napalm, mortars, artillery, grenades, practice mines and small munitions.

On-going Cooperation: The Navy continues to work closely with the State of Alaska, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Native groups and the newly established civilian community of Adak to find the best methods for ordnance assessment and cleanup.