by Mary Matthias
During the beginning of my employment with the Orutsararmiut Native Council last year, my desire was to determine the different types of environmental issues we as a community face here in Bethel.
One of the biggest concerns we face as a community is the lack of environmental education and awareness practices with electronic and hazardous wastes.
We should really start thinking about the volume of toxins entering back into the environment from within and the surrounding of our community. Local residents living in Bethel may not know that their well-being and health is being impacted on a daily basis. Exposures can go unnoticed for years to various types of hazardous wastes and chemicals, which can be linked to cancer causing agents and other types of illnesses.
I have seen electronic waste such as televisions, computers and pc monitors, microwave ovens, and other electronic appliances disposed of next to dumpsters throughout the town, and many folks tossing out household batteries in their trash. These items are being buried in Bethel’s landfill.
Unlike most household trash, television and computer screens contain lead, cadmium, chromium, beryllium and mercury elements. These toxic components can harm the environment and, if they enter food chains, they can harm human lives as well.
Household batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel. These types of elements can contaminate the environment and harm human and animal lives just as well, causing birth defects in unborn children.
Children and fetuses of pregnant women are most vulnerable to lead exposure because their bodies are developing. Excessive levels of lead can affect a child’s growth, cause brain damage, harm kidneys, impair hearing, induce behavioral problems and more.
In adults, lead can cause memory loss and lower the ability to concentrate, as well as harm the reproductive system. Lead is also known to cause high blood pressure, nerve disorders, and muscle and joint pain.
Many televisions get dropped off below dumpsters, most end up with broken screens and many shards of contaminated glass lay scattered around the ground. I have seen children play in between those areas during the late spring through fall season. Some of the young children can pick up the broken television screens and play with them. Parents, please educate your children not to play in such areas with such material.
All types of household batteries have the potential to produce harmful hazards to the environment, such as; contributing heavy metals that leach from landfills, and expose the environment and water tables to lead and acid.
Batteries contain strong corrosive acids and contaminate groundwater and surface water. Lead is a toxic metal that can enter the body by inhalation of lead dust or ingestion. If leaked onto the ground, acid and lead particles contaminate the soil and become airborne when dry. To avoid contaminating soil and groundwater, all electronic and household hazardous wastes should be recycled.
During last year’s spring and summer season, I took two field trips to the city’s landfill to see if any active leachate was leaching out of the site. I found a culvert underneath the road right below the end of the landfill that leads to Haroldsen Subdivision. I found discolored liquid oozing out into a resting puddle from below the landfill, which flows underneath the road to the other side facing the outer landscape below it.
Even though this landfill qualifies as a consolidated Class III Landfill, this landfill is producing leachate runoff just like any other dumpsite found throughout many of the rural villages in Alaska, other than the Anchorage Landfill.
What can we (as a community) do to fix this?
Start with separating batteries from everyday household trash, by placing the batteries into a plastic container and dropping the filled containers off at NAPA Auto Parts. When containing batteries, it is suggested to keep the container in a safe place away from children, and away from pregnant women as well. I have always kept my battery containers in the porch out of children’s reach.
As for recycling electronic wastes, you can contact Benjamin Balivet, who is the AVCP NEPA Program Coordinator at 543-7363. He is participating in backhaul project. He will gladly provide you with information regarding proper disposal of electronic waste.
To see photos and more, please visit and like our Facebook page at Orutsararmiut Native Council Environmental Program.
Mary Matthias is the Environmental Program Coordinator for the Orutsararmiut Native Council in Bethel.