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EPA: Nothing Unexpected In Columbia Falls Aluminum Water Samples

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Courtesy EPA

There’s some good news in the latest sampling for contaminants at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company site on the Flathead River. That’s according to Mike Cirian with the Environmental Protection Agency.

"There wasn’t anything out there that we didn’t expect, and there's no urgent or emergency type responses needed at this time," Cirian says.

The former aluminum smelter was named a Superfund site last September. At the time the EPA said contamination concerns included fluoride, cyanide and various metals. That contamination threatens a fishery containing federally protected bull trout and west slope cutthroat trout.

Cirian says the latest round of sampling was carried out by the site’s current owner, the Swiss company Glencore, and was pretty extensive:

"It's got sample results from 44 wells that we have out there. There's surface water sampling results, there is groundwater sampling, sediment sampling."

Sampling results should be publicly available online and at the Columbia Falls Public Library by the end of this week. Cirian says.

"Some of the preliminary good news is that the contaminant is not getting to Aluminum City."

Aluminum City is a site immediately downstream from the former smelter where employees used to live that's now a neighborhood of Columbia Falls. 

Glencore is carrying out the sampling as the result of a $4 million settlement with the EPA to document contamination at the site. Cirian says the goal is for the company and EPA to complete a cleanup feasibility study at CFAC by 2021. After that, he says, negotiations over how to pay for cleanup will begin.

The EPA is planning a public meeting in Columbia Falls about the new sampling results. No specific date has been set, but Cirian says they’re aiming for the third week in April.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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