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The government's plan for dealing with mine waste and other lead contamination in Butte people's houses and yards is now out for public comment.

Display ads about the comment period ran in local papers last week, but unless a person already knew about the program, there's a good chance they had no idea what the ad was about.

Conspicuously absent were words such as, "houses, yards, attics, dust, children." Instead we read, "Multi-Pathway Residential Metals Abatement Program Plan" for "Silver Bow Creek n Butte Area." What?

We don't suspect deliberate intent to keep people in the dark; the ad's just a good example of how workplace jargon can become its own language, known only to insiders who speak it every day. It's an occupational hazard.

For those not fluent in Superfund-speak, the document out for review lays out a plan to systematically test every home and yard inside the Butte Priority Soils Superfund Site (roughly an egg shape from Walkerville south to Timber Butte) for lead, arsenic and mercury left over from the mining days of yore. If dust inside a home's living space or soil in a yard is found with metals concentrations above the action levels, the property will be cleaned up, courtesy of the Superfund program.

Butte-Silver Bow's Health Department has operated a version of this program for more than a decade, with funding from the Atlantic Richfield Co. This plan spells out the full picture and will become part of a binding legal document called a Consent Decree, which will formalize every detail of the Superfund site clean-up.

Under the plan, even paint and old water pipes can be tested for lead and replaced if necessary. Top priority is given to homes where young children or pregnant women are living, and the program is entirely voluntary.

Attic dust can be tested as well, but it will only be vacuumed out if there's a pathway for it to get into the living space or if people living in the home plan a remodeling project that would create such a pathway.

Attic dust testing will also be available to every homeowner in the entire Butte urban area under the plan. People outside the Superfund site boundary have to call and request the test — the government won't come to you — but the testing is being expanded since contaminated dust has been found in attics outside the site boundaries.

The plan map clearly shows all the boundaries and what parts of town are eligible for what types of testing and clean-up. About 16 more properties north and west of Walkerville will be newly eligible for the full program.

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Blood-lead tests are already available for children through the health department, and eventually the program will include further medical tests for mercury and arsenic for people whose homes are found with elevated levels of the substances. Broader-based public health studies are planned as well.

Over the next 10 years, health department officials will be reaching out to everyone living inside the Superfund site to let them know about the program and hopefully get their permission to test and then clean, if need be. Program staff targeted the Lower West Side this summer, and they estimate it will take 10 years to sample every house and yard inside the site boundaries and up to 20 years to do all the clean-up.

People who'd rather not wait for the contact may call the health department at 497-5042 to set up an appointment to have their homes and yards sampled.

Copies of the overall plan are available for review at the Montana Tech Library, the CTEC office at 27 W. Park, and EPA's Butte office in the basement of the courthouse. The plan is also online at www.epa.gov/region8/ superfund/mt/sbcbutte.

This is an important program, and we encourage everyone to learn more about it and spread the word to friends and neighbors. Fortunately, a widespread community awareness and education campaign is also planned. We hope it starts ASAP.

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