JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A plan to upgrade an Alaska airport has faced criticism from residents as contractors plan to begin construction on the $20 million federally funded project this month.

Residents and organizations such as the Gustavus PFAS Action Coalition want more state accountability after toxic chemicals were found at the Gustavus airport in 2018, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Monday.

The contaminants found are known as PFAS, a group of toxic chemicals found in firefighting foam that used to be required at airports and defense sites.

They are also called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down. The chemicals were discovered in water, soil and wells around the Southeast Alaska community.

Alaska’s Energy Desk reported that there is evidence the contaminants are linked to cancer, thyroid problems and other negative health effects.

Members of the Gustavus PFAS Action Coalition said they do not think the environmental oversight by the state will do enough to keep residents safe.


Nicole Grewe is among residents suspicious of the project that will move and spread the contaminated soil. Alaska’s Energy Desk said more than a dozen households in the city have been drinking bottled water for years after learning that their wells were poisoned with PFAS.

“There is no permanent disposal plan for the contaminated ground,” Grewe said. “There, there is no permanent solution to this.”

The news outlet reported that the state has done what is legally required regarding the construction project.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities runs the airport and is responsible for the contaminants. The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Tuesday said while there is no current plan to clean the contaminants, that does not rule out future action.

The department has a plan to prevent contaminated soil from spreading into the city that was approved by state regulators in March.

A spokesperson from the department, Sam Dapcevich, said the agency is taking the community’s concerns seriously.

“We’re not going to do any construction work until we resolve those issues,” Dapcevich said.