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What are PFAS and why are people concerned about them?

“PFAS” refers to perfluorinated chemicals. PFAS are human-made chemicals that are manufactured for their heat, water, and stain-resistant properties. Because of these properties, PFAS are applied to a wide variety of industrial, commercial, and consumer products. Although they have been useful in many processes and products, research has determined that they may be linked to potential negative health impacts. Some PFAS are persistent and are found in various amounts in many places in the environment. In some cases, where fire-fighting and industrial activities have discharged relatively large amounts of PFAS into the environment, there have been impacts to groundwater, surface water, and drinking water. To date, the greatest focus of risk based on publicly available information appears to be on PFAS in drinking water, which may lead to possible negative health impacts.

Are PFAS in composts?

Yes, PFAS has been found in some compost from last season. Many activities introduce PFAS compounds into the wastewater. Compost is the final product of our wastewater process.

Why is GHU not distributing compost?

Analytical tests have indicated the presence of PFAS in last season’s compost stock. GHU has been proactive screening and testing the compost for PFAS materials. Based on information available to us at this time, it is our understanding that the risk of PFAS in biosolids (compost) has not been determined and more studies need to be conducted to properly determine the risk. Given the uncertainty and general concerns regarding PFAS, GHU is erring on the side of caution and decided to cease the distribution of compost. Alaska Department Environmental Conservation (ADEC) agreed with the decision.

Is there a risk in using compost that contains PFAS?

Based on information available to us, it is our understanding that the level of risk is unknown at this time. We encourage you to review information available at the State and Federal websites referenced above. A focus in some areas has been on the potential for PFAS to leach downward in soil and impact groundwater, which can be used as drinking water.

What does GHU think of the compost program?

The program has been a great program for the Fairbanks community and surrounding area. GHU has made a collaborative effort with regulatory agencies and wastewater experts to evaluate PFAS, in hope to continue serving the community with a viable compost program. GHU’s compost program has met the highest standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC). The composting program operates under an approved permit issued by the ADEC.

Does GHU use or produce PFAS in their wastewater process?

GHU does not use or produce PFAS in the wastewater process. The PFAS is likely introduced from other sources that flow into the wastewater treatment system from the Fairbanks area. Many activates in daily lives can inadvertently introduce PFAS into the water system.

What are the established limits for PFAS in compost?

At this time, neither the EPA nor Alaska have established PFAS limits under our permit for biosolids – including compost. GHU will continue to look for guidance from Federal and State agencies.

What about my well water?

If you have any concern about the quality of your well water, you can have it tested. ADEC has published a water testing procedure for citizens.

I have a pile of unused compost leftover from years past, what should I do with it?

Please contact us. Compost should be used in accordance with recommendations and best practices, including keeping it away from wells and water bodies, to reduce any risk of nutrients and contaminants – including PFAS – from impacting water, especially drinking water. In some cases, GHU may assist with removal.

What is GHU’s plan moving forward?

We will continue to work with federal and state regulatory agencies, along with various experts, to help evaluate the situation. Additionally, we will continue to try and identify the local sources of PFAS to try and prevent them from entering the wastewater collected and treated by GHU.

Who should I contact if I have concerns with PFAS?

Residents who are concerned about potential groundwater impacts can find information on how to test for PFAS on DEC’s webpage (http://dec.alaska.gov/spar/csp/pfas/fact-sheets/).
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website also has information about the potential health risks of PFAS exposure (http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/eph/Pages/PFAS.aspx).