sess the toxicity of the Sulfolane. Also
that month Flint Hills began providing
bottled water to local residents.
All of this is moving slowly toward resolution, but it will take time.
The first issue to be resolved is the acceptable limit of Sulfolane in water, and
state environmental and health officials
will be reviewing recommendations of
a team of experts this spring. If that is
agreed on by Flint Hills, it will be a step
Second, the extent of liability shared
between Flint Hills and Williams must
be settled. The state Department of Law
would not comment on the case that was
filed in 2014 other than it is “ongoing.”
Meanwhile, property owners at
North Pole must patiently wait. For the
time being the bottled water service
will continue. R
Mike Bradner is publisher of the
Alaska Legislative Digest.
than levels detected in tests conducted
at the same well in 2001.
Prior to 2004 Sulfolane was not a
regulated contaminant by DEC, but
that changed in October 2004 when the
chemical showed up in water wells. DEC
advised Flint Hills that Sulfolane was
to be regulated. Meanwhile, in January
2005 Shannon & Wilson advised Flint
Hills that a second monitoring well
showed Sulfolane contamination also at
eleven times the levels detected in 2001.
By June 2005, the consulting firm advised the company that the contamination “plume” appeared to be migrating
to the northwest. The company recommended installation of three more wells
on the property to serve as “sentries” in
detecting movement of Sulfolane off-site.
Flint Hills agreed to that and shortly
after the installation one of the sentry
wells tested positive for Sulfolane presence. In April 2006, Shannon & Wilson
presented a proposal to Flint Hills to
initiate a groundwater monitoring program and determine the source of the
Sulfolane. The consultants advised the
company that Sulfolane was highly soluble in groundwater and could be highly mobile with the flow of groundwater.
The consultants also warned that there
could be a source of Sulfolane providing
continuous leakage to the groundwater
and recommended installing additional monitoring wells along the boundary
of the property to determine if the Sulfolane was migrating off-site.
Flint Hills Disagrees
DEC agreed with the proposal but Flint
Hills did not and after eighteen months
hired another consultant, Barr Engineering, to take a fresh look. By August
2008, Barr advised Flint Hills that the
Sulfolane had moved beyond the sentry
wells and possibly off the property. Barr
recommended more monitoring wells, a
plan virtually identical to the plan originally put forth by Shannon & Wilson.
In November 2009, Sulfolane was detected in the City of North Pole’s raw water supply and a private water well. This
quickly brought other agencies into the
picture, including the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and
the EPA. The state health department
contacted the US Department of Health
and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry to as-