It was very disappointing to read Julie DalSoglio’s recent op-ed piece. I expect better from the director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s work in Montana.
Like many Butte residents, I have been involved with Superfund in our community for more than 20 years. In that time, I’ve often been disappointed, sometimes enraged, and only rarely pleased with the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts on behalf of our community. While we have made remarkable gains in cleaning up and restoring Silver Bow Creek, that success came largely in spite of and not because of the EPA. When it comes to Silver Bow Creek, we must thank Montana’s Natural Resource Damage Program (as lead agency) and the many activist citizens groups — the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited, CTEC, the Clark Fork Coalition — that supported a thorough removal of toxic mine waste from the streambed and floodplain.
When it comes to the Butte Hill, we have not been so lucky. Since the EPA’s record of decision, we have gone many years and still do not have the consent decree needed to implement remedy. The remedy itself is deeply flawed: soil toxicity studies were based on a statistically insignificant number of piglets in a mismanaged experiment that was never replicated; the study was never published in a professional journal or peer-reviewed; the EPA consistently sides with the responsible party (Arco-BP) on issues such as leaving the Parrot Tailings in place; the arsenic action levels for Butte are literally off-the-chart when compared with clean-up levels at other contaminated sites in the U.S.; and the agency has steadfastly refused to incorporate well-accepted scientific conclusions that demonstrate the additive or even multiplier effects of multiple toxins.
Recently, Stacie Barry took a doctoral degree from a joint Montana Tech-University of Montana program. Her historical and toxicological study of the Butte Superfund site opened serious questions about the efficacy of EPA actions to date and of the possible flaws with the full remedy (if and when it is ever implemented).
(In the interest of full disclosure, I chaired Barry’s committee, which also included two other Tech professors and two University of Montana professors).
The EPA, of course, does not like to hear an independent study criticize the agency’s work. As professionals, however, EPA personnel need to check their egos at the door and respond to criticism in a thoughtful, open and respectful manner. Instead, we see a pattern over the years that makes one question whether EPA works for “We The People” or for “Arco-BP the corporation.” In my years with Superfund in Butte, I have witnessed EPA personnel belittle citizens at public meetings, storm out of public meetings when a citizen criticized the agency’s work, hold “public” meetings in an Arco-BP conference room behind a private security control gate, contract a five-year review to companies that had a vested interest in the review’s outcome and mislead the public about the agency’s intended actions and timeline on pressing problems.
Yes, the EPA has made strides in protecting public health through time critical emergency removal actions, thin “temporary” vegetative caps on mine waste, and cleaning a small proportion of yards and homes. Too often, however, temporary actions end up becoming a permanent part of the remedy. And overall — given the rapidity and scale for remedy on Silver Bow Creek and at Milltown Dam — one must give the EPA a failing grade for its speed and effectiveness in dealing with the Butte Hill.
We are a very long way from a permanent, protective remedy. And never mind that seriously contaminated sites such as the Westside soils operable unit — where people have been building new homes — have not yet even been studied.
Many of us that read Barry’s dissertation hoped that it would be received by the EPA in the spirit of professional discourse and not disparaged on the pages of the local newspaper in ways that do not respond to its substantive points. Barry deserves better, Butte deserves better, and we as citizens should expect better from a federal public agency.