• Assessment of contaminant concentrations and transport pathways in rural Alaska communities' solid waste and wastewater sites

      Mutter, Edda Andrea; Schnabel, William; Barnes, David; Duddleston, Khrys; Duffy, Lawrence; Hagedorn, Birgit (2014-05)
      Waste management practices currently employed in many rural Alaska communities are potentially contributing to human and environmental health impacts, and this problem may be exacerbated with the anticipated warming climate. For rural communities, factors that contribute to insufficient waste management practices include climate and environmental conditions, limitation of federal and state capital funding for construction, and the continuing financial burden associated with providing adequate operations and maintenance. As a response, federal regulatory exemptions are granted for construction and design of solid waste sites and limited state regulations are in place for wastewater discharge criteria. Due to the absence of proper site assessment and monitoring, very little is known about the fate and transport of point source pollutants arising from these wastewater and solid waste sites. Moreover, these fate and transport processes may be susceptible to changes resulting from human activity or a warming climate. Thus, this knowledge gap associated with waste-related pollutants in rural Alaska could obscure potential threats to human and environmental health by concealing impacts to freshwater systems. This research was intended to achieve a better understanding of rural Alaska waste leachate compositions by evaluating contaminant prevalence and diversity, quantifying contaminant concentration levels, and evaluating their potential migration into nearby freshwater systems. Over the course of three years, waste sites at five rural Alaska communities were sampled and tested for heavy metals, organic constituents, and microbial indicator organisms. The purpose of the analysis was to evaluate the impact of waste sites on soil, surface, and subsurface waters in the vicinity of the sites. The resulting findings are assembled into three chapters describing 1) the assessment of heavy metal leachate in rural Alaska solid waste sites, 2) the identification of new emerging organic pollutants in rural Alaska waste sites, and 3) the partitioning and transport behavior of pathogen indicator organisms in cold regions. The research outcome of E.coli and Enterococcus sp. were observed in waste impacted water and soil samples, heavy metal migration into nearby freshwaters, and pharmaceuticals, phthalates, and benzotriazole in waste impacted water samples. The research findings highlight the need to apply state regulations to remove potentially hazardous components from rural Alaska wastewater and municipal solid waste streams. Additionally, there is a need to establish effective solid waste and wastewater leachate monitoring and assessment strategies for active and closed rural Alaska waste sites.