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Health study rouses anger

2013-01-17T00:00:00Z 2013-01-16T22:40:20Z Health study rouses angerBy Piper Haugan of The Montana Standard Montana Standard
January 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

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

To submit comments, e-mail to

— Reporter Piper Haugan: 496-5572, or

(8) Comments

  1. Drifter
    Report Abuse
    Drifter - January 20, 2013 9:15 pm
    I am not qualified to assess if the studies are correct or not, but many who are involved have asked very serious questions. Those questions get routinely ignored by the ARCO-EPA-BSB trio. I heard EPA proclaim once that the Parrot Tailings did not need to be cleaned up, because water could be treated down at the LAO for 500 years. Well, assuming that is so, why would we want to do that anyway? Ridiculous proposal, unless of course, you dont want ARCO to have to pay for removing them and remediating the damage done. If memory serves, it was Sara Sparks that said that. The public meetings I have attended, did not all seem to have folks who were satisfied with what EPA-ARCO-BSB was handing out. A totally indepdent party needs to assess the entire situation, honestly and openly.

    The idea that "the citizens of Butte past and present are as much responsible as the company that hired them" represents complete ignorance or the intent to ignore the history of ACM and it's predecessors in this town? Just exactly what were the citizens supposed to do about it, when ACM had it's Copper Heel on the entire state? Ridiculous.

    “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.”

    Sara resorts to these lines, virtually every time anyone questions what EPA has done, or has not done about the situation, or what they have let ARCO do or not required them to do. Nice attempt at diversion Sara, but it has worn transparently thin. She has simply been here too long. The first thing that needs to happen, is for her to be replaced by an administrator that has not been around ARCO for the last 30+ years, and not been involved in the deals.
  2. montanastrong
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    montanastrong - January 19, 2013 12:42 pm
    Folks are angry likely because it is hard to experience the human suffering in Butte, and be told that everything is all right, and that only those with acute levels showing up in blood/urine results will count against the cleanup's progress. The lower, chronic exposures to still high levels (much, much higher action levels than elsewhere) result in a town and region with a millstone around its neck forever. Instead of designing a cleanup based on the chronic lower-level exposures, and their massive health costs to locals, they have decided to doom Butte's residents. This causes anger.
  3. dobg
    Report Abuse
    dobg - January 17, 2013 3:19 pm
    This is funny. Being that I've been in many meetings to represent the public, that were open to the public, that were advertised (in this paper) and to which very few citizens ever appeared. Those that appeared were satisfied that the best practices are being used. Did the angry folks at this particular meeting ever EVER show interest previously?
    Yes of course ARCO pays for the study as ARCO has been deemed the responsible party. The work is overseen by the EPA. The angry folks are woefully ignorant.
    They are more than welcome to pay for a competing study. Out of state, if they choose, since it's apparent they don't trust any of us locals.
  4. ButteGal
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    ButteGal - January 17, 2013 2:16 pm
    I understand peoples concern. I live in Butte and have a huge family here. I would like to say that I know Ms. Sparks very well, and she is the kindest, most honest person I know. She truley cares about Butte and the people in. She may make good money; She has been doing her job for a long time, but she also gives back to this community more than any individual I know(that is not a business owner). She goes to bat with the turds from the EPA that are above her all the time if she feels they are not being 100% truthful. I have seen it. She eats, sleeps and shops here. She is great at her job. There is still alot of work that needs to be done in litte old Butte but speaking rudely about others is not the way to get it done. If you can do a better job and want to go to bat for Butte, go for it. I know Sara would be more than happy to hand that over. A united front with the people that live here and work here is the best way to accomplish results.
  5. crcologuy
    Report Abuse
    crcologuy - January 17, 2013 12:16 pm
    I have watched this clean up go on for about 35 years now, there in the minds of plenty there is not the right way to do anything right, Butte still has the mentality that it is us against the company, the company is gone, Arco has spent millions, billions, to clean up Butte and the surrounding area, the EPA, has been in charge, of the clean up since the beginning, I read these comments and everything they do or will do is wrong, There is damage in Butte, it has been going on for 150 years and still going, still mining, people knew it then, people know it now, you can choose where you live, people chose Butte, Butte did not make them move there, They moved there so they could work, and the work was and is in the mines, so Arco, the company, is not solely responsible, the citizens of Butte past and present are as much responsible as the company that hired them.
  6. bigboybutte
    Report Abuse
    bigboybutte - January 17, 2013 8:48 am
    How strange is this - sparks has been saying the same thing for well over a decade - "I have a lot of risk here. I live here every day." She also got about a million bucks during this last decade at the top of the EPA food chain in Butte, and she says we should believe her about the health issues here. "I want to live in a safe place." Dream on, honey. Your work is ensuring that none of us get a safe place. Head in the sand only exposes the rear end.
  7. butteisthebestplaceonearth
    Report Abuse
    butteisthebestplaceonearth - January 17, 2013 7:41 am
    Why hasn't ray been fired yet?

  8. drigulch
    Report Abuse
    drigulch - January 17, 2013 7:33 am
    Our local EPA representative is always good for a laugh, if only her continuous flying of false colors was actually funny. Seems to me others, like Bob Gannon for instance, liked to employ that old line about being one of us while assuring that we were all in the same boat. Jesse Helms swore for years about how great cigarettes were for you, smoking them himself and fighting any attempt to regulate them -- right up until he died of a condition very probably directly related to smoking. Just because somebody was born and raised in Butte does not insure that they are competent, possessed of integrity, and on the same side as everybody else. Butte people can be as readily bought and paid for as anybody else. If only the dead bodies of Butte superfund will remain undiscovered in their shallow graves until Sara can retire she will be set.

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