HAINES - The Army Corps of Engineers plans to test for the carcinogen dioxin next month along a pipeline corridor that once carried fuel from Haines to Fairbanks.
The chemical is a byproduct of herbicides found in the defoliant known as Agent Orange.
The testing was spurred by a state request after Army correspondence surfaced in late 2002 confirming that in the 1960s the herbicide was sprayed on the 626-mile-long pipeline's right of way to clear vegetation.
The Corps of Engineers is testing at least 20 sites along the 324-mile U.S. portion of the pipeline corridor this fall. Most of the samples will come from Interior Alaska.
"We've got a couple of locations tentatively identified near Haines," said Richard Jackson, project coordinator for the Corps of Engineers.
The first is near the border and the second is northwest of the community's airport runway, Jackson said.
Pam Miller, a biologist and director of the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, questioned whether the testing program is extensive enough.
"It's important for the people of Haines to hold the Corps of Engineers accountable for a complete investigation," Miller told the Chilkat Valley News.
"With two samples, it would be very easy to miss hot spots of contamination," Miller said.
The corps probably will add two or three more sites in the Chilkat Valley, Jackson said.
Miller also recommended health evaluations for residents along the corridor and testing of greens or berries.
Bob Glascott, an environmental specialist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, will oversee the sampling. He said this fall's work is intended as a preliminary investigation. If any problems are found, more tests will be done.
"This is kind of a good first cut at it," Glascott said. "If we do find there are impacts, we'll certainly come up with a course of action and ... direct the corps to pursue some other sampling."
About half of the 626-mile pipeline ran near the Richardson Highway and along the Alaska Highway. The other half went into British Columbia and the Yukon, and about 44 miles is in the Haines area.
Collection of soil samples will begin next week near Fairbanks and continue south to Haines.
"We're focusing our efforts along the Alaska Highway, beginning up north ... looking at the Interior before the snow falls," Jackson said.
The corps also plans to take five samples from areas where dioxin pollution is not suspected to test for background levels of the contaminant. Test results are expected by January.