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EPA: Committed to Butte cleanup

2012-04-01T03:30:00Z EPA: Committed to Butte cleanupby Julie DalSoglio Mtstandard.com
April 01, 2012 3:30 am  • 

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.

(9) Comments

  1. JackO
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    JackO - April 01, 2012 9:51 pm
    Docwaters I don't want to make something that isn't possible. I was attempting to illustrate an idea: The fact that there are enormous costs involved with resource extraction, and the fact that we have all accepted those costs from industries in return for jobs. Those costs have often been passed on to others.
  2. Freedom_Fighter
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    Freedom_Fighter - April 01, 2012 9:31 pm
    The EPA says the same thing to Libby MT. They remain “committed,” but to whom or what? When illness presents itself, they tell the sick ones to “change your lifestyle,” or worse, shut up and go away, and above all, BE QUIET so as not to scare off developers. Doesn’t matter how many times our towns cry out for help, in Montana, the EPA has its own commitment - to the polluters and responsible parties.

    Putting our heads in the sand about health issues here and fighting the messenger will keep us suffering for years and years longer than admitting we see the only viable solution to be action levels similar to other successfully cleaned locations that have seen measurable reductions in depression, cancer, and dozens of the other costly health concerns that plague our citizens. Having a $70K health review every five years is a disgustingly ineffective approach to the misery going on here. Take a few blood samples, pat us on the head, then check again in five years.

    Sure EPA’s approved the expending of $200 million waste in place “clean up” and sampled a bunch, but everyone knows the truth, regardless. EPA hasn’t effectively responded to the concerns of Butte citizens for the last decade of meetings, reviews and “public involvement.”

    If the action levels stay sky high, it won’t be possible to have a healthy community and region, and we’ll have to revisit this for the rest of our lives. The issue won’t go away.
  3. drigulch
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    drigulch - April 01, 2012 8:45 pm
    peace4ever said: "EPA argues that Ms. Barry's work is flawed - clearly Butte-Anaconda people are much, much tougher than other humans. Here, residents can readily tolerate five to ten times the action levels of pollution set for other smelter clean up sites around the nation, without apparent health effects. If anyone says there are health effects, EPA points to a pathetic, seriously flawed piece of faux science known as the pig study, saying they have proof that these levels are safe. They talk about "acute" levels of pollutants in the bloodstream, so we can overlook the obvious, costly effects from lower-level chronic exposures. Butte's health department has been corrupt for two decades and nothing will change that now. Ms. Barry's only mistake is assuming anyone there would care about what she has to say here in Poisonville."

    Unquestionably, being exposed to nasty chemicals like arsenic and lead is very likely to lead the majority of us in getting a much quicker transfer from a street car named desire to one called cemetery, just the same as all the herbicides the county and others spray around the community like wine probably will. The old miner also told me, you make your own conditions and i read the front page article about the big fire training drill right next to a neighborhood where the acrid smoke can waft over all the houses, so is it a superfund site or this kind of stuff that be getting us all down. The firemen sure got suited up to go in there. We have a population that leans heavily toward being a great deal irish, did the study look to see if there are any inherent genetic dispositions in the Irish DNA that may be coming into play here that could skew mortality results? No argument at all that the hazardous waste wallow we live in needs to be taken care of much better than it is; but we also ought to be looking at a lot of other things we are doing in other areas to wreck our own health as well or we are never going to live forever.

  4. Docwaters
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    Docwaters - April 01, 2012 5:11 pm
    JackO, to get what you want would require changes in the 1872(hard rock)Mining Law. That would need the support of almost every Western senator and congressman. Guess which side their bread is buttered on?
  5. peace4ever
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    peace4ever - April 01, 2012 4:47 pm
    EPA argues that Ms. Barry's work is flawed - clearly Butte-Anaconda people are much, much tougher than other humans. Here, residents can readily tolerate five to ten times the action levels of pollution set for other smelter clean up sites around the nation, without apparent health effects. If anyone says there are health effects, EPA points to a pathetic, seriously flawed piece of faux science known as the pig study, saying they have proof that these levels are safe. They talk about "acute" levels of pollutants in the bloodstream, so we can overlook the obvious, costly effects from lower-level chronic exposures. Butte's health department has been corrupt for two decades and nothing will change that now. Ms. Barry's only mistake is assuming anyone there would care about what she has to say here in Poisonville.
  6. drigulch
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    drigulch - April 01, 2012 2:00 pm
    JackO said: "Wait a minute. How come taxpayers are paying for a cost of development? Are costs of development paid for by Entrepeneurs? I thought it was.I don't understand. In economics they teach us that risk and costs are the responsibility of the free enterprise entrepreneur. How does the cost of these things get shifted away from the entrepreneur and investor, and onto the shoulders of the working person... who is at the bottom of the economic food chain? Shouldn't there be regulations to prevent that from happening?Seems to me the costs and risks are being dumped like the mine tailings were dumped on Meaderville and Finntown. Reminds me of the Wall Street meltdown, where risk and debt were dumped like mine tailings."

    Ho HO, My friend! I fear you still reside in a way it ought to be world. It has long been the case with the EPA to hire an engineering firm who comes up with a fly by the seat of their pants scheme which is passed on the agency to dump on the public with no risk to the private enterprise at all. The EPA is told that the very expensive solution that the consultant has come up with "might work" you can never be sure in these things you know; but if it does not, they will be glad to charge the taxpayer a whole lot of additional money to fiddle with it and fiddle with it and fiddle with it some more. NEVER do they say, "Hey, we have this idea we think is great, we will employ it and if it works you can pay us a fair, free market fee in recompense, and if it fails we will eat it." ALL of the risk is always born by the public, all of the profit raked in by the multitude of snake oil salesmen in this environmental business.

  7. JackO
    Report Abuse
    JackO - April 01, 2012 11:37 am
    Wait a minute. How come taxpayers are paying for a cost of development? Are costs of development paid for by Entrepeneurs? I thought it was.

    I don't understand. In economics they teach us that risk and costs are the responsibility of the free enterprise entrepreneur. How does the cost of these things get shifted away from the entrepreneur and investor, and onto the shoulders of the working person... who is at the bottom of the economic food chain? Shouldn't there be regulations to prevent that from happening?

    Seems to me the costs and risks are being dumped like the mine tailings were dumped on Meaderville and Finntown. Reminds me of the Wall Street meltdown, where risk and debt were dumped like mine tailings.
  8. Comparadun
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    Comparadun - April 01, 2012 11:24 am
    "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."

    Well, assuming that is true (which is a huge assumption) then perhaps it is time for the EPA to recognize the most recent and comprehensive science, which says the issue of the Parrott Tailings is significant enough to now require the removal of them by ARCO? We can also have a major discussion on how things like institutional controls will be developed for maintaining the capped wastes, once ARCO leaves town?

  9. drigulch
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    drigulch - April 01, 2012 9:50 am
    Well, If i were the EPA i would not get on too high a horse comparing the science they employ with that flawed science and the resulting flawed conclusions that Stacie Barry used and ended up with in her study. In both cases, the means, processes, and outcome are entirely suspect in my view. The Barry report made some real amazing stretches to reach the cause and effect conclusions that it did and the EPA often employs hired gun consultants who do the exact same thing to come up with the conclusions and courses of action that the agency indicates is their desire. The local EPA representative is a text book case of somebody who cannot even spell science yet religiously claims to stand behind it.
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