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Judge Lifts Gag Order On Details Of Anaconda Superfund Cleanup

Giant piles of slag sit on along Highway 1 on the way into Anaconda, MT, July 11, 2018. Slag is a byproduct of copper smelting.
Nora Saks
Giant piles of slag sit on along Highway 1 on the way into Anaconda, MT, July 11, 2018. Slag is a byproduct of copper smelting.

A federal judge has lifted a gag order on the Anaconda Superfund cleanup. That means that after more than a decade of secrecy, Anaconda residents will soon be able to learn some details about the Superfund cleanup deal in the works for the Smelter City.

In July, the parties in charge of negotiating a final cleanup deal for the Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site announced they had reached a draft agreement.

Locals responded with cautious optimism, because they didn’t know the agreement’s details, due to a pre-existing court gag order covering Superfund settlement negotiations. The EPA, Atlantic Richfield Company and state and local governments couldn’t reveal any specifics about the cleanup deal or plan to the public. That was also the case in Butte.

But from now on, more sunshine is going to be allowed into the process.

“It’s kind of a big day for Anaconda and moving forward," says Chris Wardell, the community involvement coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8.

EPA and Atlantic Richfield on Tuesday petitioned a federal District Court to lift part of the confidentiality order.

Today, EPA announced that Judge Sam Haddon granted that motion the same day it was filed.

That means the parties negotiating the cleanup agreement will now be allowed to share some vital details with the public. Like what future cleanup actions are being proposed, any changes to the remedy, the nature of some technical assessments, and the path that lies ahead.

But Wardell said that won’t happen immediately.

“It will take some time for us to pull the information together for public consumption, but we hope to have a public meeting sometime in early January to roll this information out to the public.”

Wardell said EPA wants to give the public time to review and digest all of the information, and formal public comment periods will follow. 

The Anaconda Smelter Site was placed on the Superfund National Priorities List in 1983 because a century of copper milling and smelting left much of the air, soil, and water in the area contaminated with heavy metals. Cleanup has been ongoing at the 300 square mile site.

For more information regarding the Anaconda Smelter Site, visit www.epa.gov/superfund/anaconda-co-smelter

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