For three decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked closely with the State of Montana and Butte-Silver Bow County to address public health and environmental problems associated with more than a century of mining activity in the county.
We have come far since 1982. To date, more than $200 million has been spent to remove and cap mine waste and reduce contamination in surface and groundwater in Butte, yielding dramatic improvements to Silver Bow Creek. In addition, approximately 2,000 residential areas have been sampled and 400 residential properties have been cleaned up. As a result, exposures to elevated levels of contaminants have been significantly reduced.
Guided by standards set by the Superfund law, the record of our history at the Butte Superfund site includes dozens of technical studies and reports that document our progress and reveal a consistent commitment to sound science and community involvement. This includes the selection of the specific action levels for contaminants, such as arsenic, lead and mercury, which guide EPA’s cleanup actions.
We're still working and evaluating our progress. During the next few months, EPA will work with the County, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Atlantic Richfield and community members to develop a Public Health Study Remedial Design Work Plan. This plan, which will be developed with public input and assistance from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, will outline EPA's recommendations for public health studies that will be conducted in Butte every five years.
EPA remains committed to continued discussion and evaluation of public health conditions in Butte. Earlier this month Stacie Barry, with the University of Montana College of Technology, released a report questioning the protectiveness of EPA action levels and cleanup activities. Although EPA did not contribute to the report — and we have initial concerns about the report’s science and its findings — we take our responsibility to protect human health and the environment seriously. EPA is conducting a full review of Barry’s report and will consider the results of that review during development of the Public Health Study Remedial Design Work Plan.
As many in Butte know, EPA regularly evaluates progress at Superfund sites. EPA recently completed a thorough five-year review of the Butte Superfund site remedy, including the residential metals cleanup. Results are in a June 28, 2011 report available on our website at epa.gov/region8/superfund/mt/sbcbutte/. This report concluded that cleanup levels for residential metals in soils and dust were properly selected under the Superfund law and are protective of human health.
EPA also continues to address residential exposure to contaminants in Butte. Under EPA direction, Atlantic Richfield and the county are assessing and removing contamination from homes through the Superfund Residential Metals Abatement Program. This program addresses soil contamination from mining (and other lead sources) by conducting systematic sampling of residential areas and cleaning up soils and indoor dust when action levels are exceeded.
Medical monitoring is also a key part of evaluating progress. The Butte-Silver Bow County Health Department regularly offers screening to residents for lead (in blood) and arsenic (in urine). Results show steady decreases in lead and arsenic uptake, offering evidence of the effectiveness of cleanup actions and efforts to reduce exposures.
EPA appreciates the efforts of the many parties in Butte, including the tremendous support of local agencies, to advance Superfund cleanup efforts, reduce exposure and evaluate results. Our decisions have always been based on the best science and information available, and EPA will continue to value public involvement as we move forward in assessing new information. The Butte cleanup has come a long way, and EPA is committed to completing the job.
— Julie DalSoglio is Montana Office Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.