PFAS Drinking Water Contamination in Alaska

Ms Danielle Pensley1

1City of Fairbanks, Alaska, Fairbanks, United States

In 2014, PFAS contamination from decades of exercises involving aqueous fire-fighting foam was found at the site of the Regional Fire Training Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. Groundwater testing over the next five years uncovered the spread of PFOS and PFOA in a northwesterly plume across the city. Meanwhile, the number of known PFAS contaminated sites across Alaska has grown to over fifteen. (

Typically the state or the military was the source of contamination; Fairbanks is the only municipal responsible party in the state. The city’s response evolved from public outreach and water delivery to last month’s filing in federal court against 3M and Tyco Fire Products.

The backdrop is the convoluted federal and state regulation of PFAS in the U.S. Under the previous governor, Alaska boasted a more stringent approach than the Environmental Protection Agency – yet would not sue manufacturers. Now with conservatives in power, Alaska has rolled back its progressive regulations and retreated behind a much publicized but perhaps toothless federal action plan.

Locally utilized PFAS presents a different facet to the problem of this chemical of emerging Arctic concern, which is otherwise characterized by oceanic and atmospheric transport from developing industrial sites in Asia. (AMAP 2016.)


The deputy city attorney for Fairbanks, Alaska and affiliate faculty in the School of Natural Resources & Extension at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Danielle Pensley holds an A.B. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy & International Affairs at Princeton University, a J.D. from Cornell Law School, and an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from the School of Art, Architecture & Planning at Cornell University. Danielle is the founder of Borealis Community Land Trust and has published on such topics as city planning in socialist Germany, stream interventions and developer exactions, and traditional ecological knowledge in the North.

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