A free program has tested for heavy metals in Butte soils and lead and arsenic in its attics and homes at more than 1,800 properties, but still has plenty of work in front of them.
The Butte-Silver Bow Residential Metals Abatement Program, started in 1994, has sampled more than half of the qualifying properties in the area. Many of those have received contaminant-free lawns and attics — all at no cost to the homeowner.
Yet, some remain unaware of what the program offers.
Butte-Silver Bow Health Department Employees Eric Hassler and Michelle Bay, along with three abatement technicians, test and remediate attics year-round.
Hassler said they have cleaned more than 160 to date that had high levels of arsenic, mercury and-or lead present.
Depending on the size of the project, Hassler said crews can be in and out in a few days to “vacuum out everything that isn’t bolted down.” After the space has been cleaned, county crews can stuff it with insulation and reduce energy costs for the homeowner.
The attic program has recently been expanded to places like Rocker and Ramsay. If the residence is located in the Uptown area it automatically qualifies for inspection. County properties located in the Flat and out of town qualify only if significant remodeling is planned, or if there are obvious signs of ceiling cracks or other problems that could cause contaminants to enter the main living space.
Hassler said all the work is done on a first-come, first-served basis, but those planning remodels can be moved to the top of the list to prevent possible exposure. In the past, Hassler more than 80 percent of attics tested qualified for remediation.
In addition, Hassler said the county continues to push its residential metals program, in which they test for soil contaminates. Hassler and Bay said they plan to test more than 240 properties this year. In the past, about 40 percent of tested homes have enough heavy metals in the soil to qualify for remediation, said Hassler, who also said he expects that percentage to increase because of new sampling protocol.
Hassler stressed that all the work they do is free, and that the landowner is not on the hook for any future liability.
He said he often runs into homeowners who think participating in the system is a “stigma” or that their home value will decline. Hassler said it’s often quite the opposite, however, and noted that improved, insulated attic space and clean dirt yards increase home values.
They plan to specifically target the area south of Iron Street, west of Main and north of Timber Butte, roughly the neighborhood known as Williamsburg. Many of those homes will receive mailings to tell them how to start the testing process.