• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 2s

On Attu, toxic cleanup decades in the making

By Bonney Bowman 11:11 PM July 19, 2016

Seventy years ago during the battle for the Pacific, the military occupied the remote Aleutian island of Attu. During its time there, the military dumped barrels of toxic tar and fuel, buried under asphalt and left to leak into the soil. This summer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) used $10 million in Formerly Used Defense Site (FUDS) funding to clean up the mess decades in the making.

Crews are digging out old barrels of tar and fuel left to leak into the soil.

Crews are digging out old barrels of tar and fuel left to leak into the soil.

“There’s more contamination underneath the asphalt. The asphalt has kind of capped it over the last 60 years or 50 years,” said USACE project engineer Andy Sorum as he surveyed the site on Attu. “There’s not much human contact here. We’re not going to be developing this for residences or schools or anything like that, but it represents a real risk to the environment.”

Toxic tar sitting on the soil on Attu.

Toxic tar sitting on the soil on Attu.

The ooze gave off a strong fuel smell and trapped rare birds, creating an environmental hazard for not just the birds, but also anyone who visited the island.

A crew with Bristol Environmental Remediation Services LLC worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week digging out the contaminated soil. They used heavy machinery to load it into super sacks, each holding up to 22,000 pounds of soil. The goal is to fill 50 bags a day in what can be dangerous work.

Heavy machinery is key to the cleanup efforts on Attu.

Heavy machinery is key to the cleanup efforts on Attu.

“The biggest challenge is you have a lot of overhead hazards and pinch points, just making sure nobody gets crushed by the machine,” said unexploded ordnance technician John Mura.

Because the military was active on Attu, Mura was on hand in case ammunition was found among the barrels.

“We’re not out looking for it,” he said. “I’m just here just in case it shows up.”

The barrel dump is the second site the crew is working to clean up. The started their work on a World War II-era ball field turned toxic pit.

This former ball field turned toxic dump. The flags show places the soil was sampled for testing to confirm it was clean.

Former ball field turned toxic dump. The flags show places the soil was sampled for testing to confirm it was clean.

“They came in here, they dumped the contaminants down and then they bulldozed this kind of generally level,” said Sorum as he looked over the field.

The crew removed 1,300 tons of soil from the field. A biologist took soil samples to ensure they got everything.

“To be able to come in, dig it all out and leave something clean, generally graded to contour, that’s going to heal itself, that’s great,” said Sorum. He said removing the contaminants protects the fragile environment while remembering the sacrifice of the men who served on Attu.

The old Coast Guard headquarters and camp site on Attu

The old Coast Guard headquarters and camp site on Attu

“It’s an amazing difference, it’s a transformation,” he said. “It really honors the history here and the great things that were done here.”

KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.

Latest Stories

  • News

    3-year-old sees cop eating alone, so she walks up to his table and sits down

    by Jennifer Earl / CBS News on Mar 29, 17:43

    Sgt. Steven Dearth was taking a quick dinner break when he spotted a little girl in a booth with her family in Panera Bread staring at him. The 3-year-old girl named Lillian was sitting in her dad’s lap when she started waving to the police officer, who works with the Hingham Police Department in Massachusetts. […]

  • Sports

    Freshman Hayden Lieb becomes Bethel’s first All-American wrestler

    by Anna Rose MacArthur/KYUK on Mar 29, 17:27

    Freshman Hayden Lieb has become the first Bethel Regional High School (BRHS) wrestler to earn an All-American title, according to a story originally published by KYUK Public Media. The wrestler earned the honor this weekend at the 2017 National High School Coaches Association Tournament in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “This is a big thing,” said Bethel wrestling […]

  • News

    Tsunami warning system test reveals breaks in communication

    by Melissa Frey on Mar 29, 16:57

    A few errors were identified in the state’s tsunami warning system during a state-wide test Wednesday. This test is done every year to make sure the system is working properly, and Wednesday’s test aimed to reach all coastal Alaska communities at risk. Most people heard or saw the signal loud and clear — it was […]

  • News

    UK begins Brexit process, triggers Article 50 to leave EU

    by CBS News on Mar 29, 16:16

    The United Kingdom formally triggered Article 50 and began the process of leaving the European Union on Wednesday, CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti reports. The move will end a 44-year relationship, and Britain’s breakup with the EU may not be pretty. The divorce papers were filed at European Union headquarters in Brussels, after British Prime […]

  • News

    New owner, new look for Title Wave Books

    by Heather Hintze on Mar 29, 16:07

    Title Wave Books is currently home to about a half-million books and Angela Libal is partial to all of them. “Impossible, I could never pick a favorite,” she laughed. “It’s like picking your favorite kid, right?” Libal started working at the bookstore 19 years ago, and now she’s the store’s new owner. She’s making a few […]

  • Politics

    Meet the candidates: District 2 – Seat C – Chugiak/Eagle River

    by Daniella Rivera on Mar 29, 15:36

    KTVA invited every registered candidate running in the upcoming Anchorage municipal election to an on-camera interview at our studios to discuss the following topics: Balancing the budget Public safety Introducing new taxes Addressing homelessness in Anchorage Plans for the future We also asked each candidate to submit a 300-word biography, each of which has been […]

  • Lifestyle

    Video: Spectacular northern lights corona captured in real-time

    by KTVA Web Staff on Mar 29, 15:04

      North Pole photographer Sean Kurdziolek specializes in taking stunning photos of the aurora borealis with clients. He described his process in a 2016 series KTVA produced called “Chasing the Lights.” On an outing with clients Monday, he captured a vivid display of aurora corona dancing overhead in real-time. The display occurred around 1 a.m., […]

  • On-Air

    Teacher of the Week: Wendy Barnes

    by James Gaddis on Mar 29, 13:31

    Wendy Barnes learned as a teenager that you should never take anything for granted. When she was 18 years old, she taught sick kids at a hospital in Chernobyl. She said the experience was an eye opener. Years later, as a kindergarten teacher at Tyson Elementary, that lesson still holds true. “You have no idea […]