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Melting Alaska permafrost prompts landfill concerns

Rural Alaskan villages have few public amenities, so when it comes to waste disposal, many rely on rudimentary landfills -- even when dealing with potentially hazardous waste like batteries or refrigerators.

In the past, the region's cold temperatures have generally kept these poisons locked in the ground. But as climates shift and Alaska's permafrost thaws, some villages are starting to worry about the potential for waste sites to leak.

To meet this challenge, Alaska has launched a $1.4 million initiative, funded by a federal grant, to survey and design waste disposal action plans for the state's most isolated communities.

Sanitation and waste disposal have been problems for rural Alaska for some time. Without a comprehensive system in place, many residents dump garbage wherever they can. Chemicals end up in rivers or the ocean, creating the danger that they could migrate or contaminate ocean life.

In other communities, waste is stored in shallow landfills. In the village of Kwigillingok, for example, a decades-old landfill lies along the banks of a river. The river's seasonal activity, coupled with warmer temperatures, has caused the site to erode, so that now its contents are coming back to the surface.

Small Alaskan communities are exempted from an EPA law mandating that all landfills be lined. In the past, this allowed communities to build landfills more cheaply, but the system worked better when temperatures were colder. Now that the permafrost is starting to melt, it no longer acts as a natural barrier (Alex DeMarban, Alaska Dispatch, March 19). -- NM

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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