- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — A cleanup plan for a chemical spill on ground beneath the shuttered North Pole refinery has been approved by the refinery owner and the state.

The agreement between Flint Hills Resources, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Attorney General for cleanup of sulfolane, a chemical used in refining, was announced Monday, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1rpKyHN) reported.

Kristin Ryan of the DEC said Flint Hills already has been complying with most provisions and the agreement puts them into a legally binding contract.

Flint Hills, a division of Koch Industries Inc., completed purchase of the refinery on April 1, 2004. Flint Hills was aware of soil contamination but thought it was confined to the ground beneath the refinery, according to company officials.

Sulfolane, however, was detected beyond refinery property. Trace amounts were found in the city of North Pole’s two wells, which supply water to more than 500 businesses and homes. Contamination was detected at least three miles northwest of the refinery, and sulfolane levels in many of private wells outside city limits exceeded standards recommended by the federal government.

The contamination is the subject of ongoing litigation. The agreement does not affect litigation regarding who should clean up contamination off refinery property and other issues.

The agreement outlines methods to be used for soil monitoring, cleaning hot spots and water treatment.

DEC has set an acceptable level of sulfolane in groundwater at 14 parts per billion. An independent nonprofit organization, Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment, or TERA, has been working to determine whether that level should be modified.

If the number determined by TERA differs, the agreement reached Monday will change to match the new number, Ryan said. The TERA recommendation is expected next month.

Flint Hills spokesman Jeff Cook said a cleanup off the site will be the next step.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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