National sulfolane studies under way
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said June 9 that the National Toxicology Program has initiated new studies to address important data gaps regarding exposure to sulfolane, an industrial solvent used primarily in natural gas and oil refining.
DEC said its particular concern is lack of information on effects of long-term exposure to the chemical.
Sulfolane was discovered in drinking water wells near the North Pole Refinery in 2009, and Flint Hills Resources Alaska, owner of the refinery, provides alternative drinking water to an estimated 1,500 people residing in the impacted area.
NTP is a federal program which uses a science-based approach to evaluate environmental contaminants of public health concern, and has elected to study sulfolane at the request of DEC, the department said. A two-year study initiated in May is expected to provide a clearer picture of risks associated with long-term sulfolane exposure.
Those risks have not been “adequately addressed by the scientific community studying sulfolane,” said Kristin Ryan, director of DEC’s Division of Spill Prevention and Response, and the information is needed “to make a sound decision when setting a cleanup level for the containment.”
DEC continues to review the Flint Hills proposal of a 362 parts per billion cleanup level, but the department said there is currently no cleanup level for sulfolane.
Ryan said the studies under way by NTP “will provide information critical to set a cleanup level that protects the hundreds of adults and children whose drinking water is impacted by the sulfolane contamination.”
DEC said a newsletter on overall project status is in preparation, and an open house will be held in North Pole in late summer to provide community members an opportunity to visit with experts in the field.
- Petroleum News