25 March 2011
page last updated: 24 February 2011
Assessment of Rural Alaskan Wastewater Leachate
Waste facilities in rural Alaska often contain a mixture of household solid waste materials and human waste products in close proximity to surface waters. Seasonal movement of surface waters are often a pathway for waste toxins and/or pathogens into surrounding ecosystems.
Credit: Photo by Edda Mutter
In rural Alaska, communities are highly sensitive to changes in the surrounding ecosystem and its effects upon subsistence activities. In turn, ecosystems themselves are highly sensitive to perturbations brought about by ineffective solid and sewage waste management practices. In most instances, untreated waste material, including antifreeze, plastic material, lead-acid batteries, detergents, medical waste, and in some instances, human waste, is deposited into natural tundra ponds, unlined sewage lagoons or solid waste sites. Due to the absence of regular monitoring, very little is known about chemical and microbial pollutants leaching from these waste sites into nearby water resources and the environment that supports subsistence life in arctic or subarctic regions. Therefore, in order to minimize risks to human and environmental health, the study seeks to determine the extent and nature of chemical and microbial pollution migration from the waste site to freshwater resources. To accomplish the study goal, soil and water samples were collected and analyzed for pathogen indicator organisms and heavy metals in and around five rural Alaskan solid and wastewater sites during spring/fall 2010. Preliminary analytical results indicated high levels of microbial indicator organisms, in the range of 0.4–3.6 Log MPN/100 mL, as well as shown a general trend of elevated metals, such as aluminum, zinc, vanadium, nickel, copper, barium, antimony, and lead compared to the observed control sites. In addition, the obtained samples were further used for method development to perform HPLC-MSMS analysis for low-level concentrations in order to evaluate major leachate composition, such as phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, alkyl phenols, and pharmaceuticals to evaluate major leachate composition.