A public meeting on a federally mandated cleanup turned into a venting session Wednesday as vocal Butte residents criticized what they say has been an opaque and possibly skewed study on Superfund cleanup in the Mining City.
People packed the Butte Archives meeting room, and questioned officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, Atlantic Richfield Co. and the Butte-Silver Bow Public Health Department. They perceive the public is being shut out of the process of developing new studies to measure Butte’s environmental health. Much of the frustration stemmed from similar Butte Superfund studies in the past.
More than one audience member suggested that the studies should not be trusted because Atlantic Richfield Co. money paid for the independent contractors who
conducted the studies, which measure things like blood lead levels in Butte children that may be caused by past mining activities.
Rosalind Schoof, a toxicologist with Environ, an independent consulting group hired by Atlantic Richfield, had barely started her presentation about blood lead level studies in Butte before comments began pouring in.
Montana Tech professor John Ray asked if Environ is doing the work for free.
“Of course not,” she said.
“So you were hired by Arco,” Ray said.
Later, Ray said Butte residents are concerned with the independence of the health studies looking into the
efficacy of Superfund cleanup. He said some people think the county, Atlantic Richfield and the EPA, after years and millions of dollars spent on Superfund cleanup, are evaluating their own work instead of having a truly independent entity conduct the studies.
He contends it is the general public’s perception that the results of the not-yet-conducted study are already in.
Sara Sparks, remedial project manager for the EPA, responded to Ray, saying that she was born and raised in Butte and has as much at stake as the rest of the audience.
“I do take it a little personally … when you say, ‘We can’t trust (the agencies conducting the study),’” Sparks said. “I want to live in a safe place. I have a lot at risk here. I live here every day.”
Schoof pointed out that scientists’ work is always open to examination. And the studies are reviewed by national boards.
Dr. John Jacobson, a retired Butte physician, suggested that it might help to have the studies peer-reviewed by scientific organizations to allay residents’ fears. Agency representatives agreed that is a good idea.
Fritz Daily, a local Superfund watchdog, said the community feels the EPA has failed it.
“When dealing with Superfund it’s hard not to be negative,” he said. “We’ve not been left with a good result.”
Another complaint from audience members is that information about the study plan is hard to find, and that Terri Hocking, the health department director tasked with collecting public comments on the study, didn’t respond to emails from the public. (She was recently placed on paid leave pending an investigation in the health department unrelated to the health studies complaint.)
In response, the comment period was extended to Feb. 16. Interim health department director Dan Powers said he would do his best to respond.
To find information on the health study so far, visit http://www.co.silverbow.mt.us/departments/community_services.asp#health
To submit comments, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org