Contaminants in Alaska

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Most people think of Alaska as pristine and unpolluted. Though largely undeveloped, Alaska has more than its share of contaminants.

Toxic chemicals from many sources, both local and global, are showing up in Alaska’s land, water, fish, wildlife, and people.

Where Do These Contaminants Come From?

The Arctic is a hemispheric sink for industrial pollutants from around the world. Carried by wind and ocean currents, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) pdf accumulate in the fish, wildlife, and people of the circumpolar north. These chemicals include legacy chemicals like DDT and PCBs as well as currently used chemicals.

Hundreds of abandoned World War II, Cold War, and currently used military sites continue to leach hazardous waste. Many of these sites are located close to Native villages and traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Fuels, plastics, and electronics at open dumpsites, and incineration of wastes are additional sources of contaminants in rural Alaska.

Alaska is home to Red Dog Mine, the world’s largest zinc mine and the Nation’s top industrial polluter. Proposed development of new uranium and gold mines threaten to release heavy metals and leach toxic chemicals into soils and watersheds. Mining contaminants could harm fish, wildlife and people downstream of operations. Contamination from existing and proposed coal development is also a concern.

How is ACAT Working to Address Pollutants in Alaska?

ACAT is engaged in an array of collaborative projects throughout the state.
We support community-based environmental health research and train village leaders to conduct their own environmental sampling through our Community-Based Research Field Institute.
We facilitate the Collaborative on Health and the Environment – Alaska (CHE-AK) to advance knowledge and effective action to address growing concerns about the links between human health and environmental factors.

We are building strong coalitions to advocate for state policies that will protect the health of Alaska’s people, wildlife and the environment from certain chemicals known to be harmful, but not yet federally regulated.