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New proposal could move the Anaconda cleanup forward

The Washoe Smelter Stack in Anaconda, MT.
Nora Saks
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The Washoe Smelter Stack in Anaconda, MT.

Cleanup efforts at one of the state’s largest Superfund sites in Anaconda have a new road map after an agreement was filed Friday.

The smelter stack that still looms over the town of Anaconda operated from 1902 to 1980, refining millions of tons of copper ore and polluting the air, soil, and water across 300 square miles of Deer Lodge county in the process, turning the area into an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Site.

But a new consent decree — an agreement between federal and state agencies and Atlantic Richfield, the company that took over the smelter in the 1970s — provides a path to finishing the long running clean up effort.

The proposed deal will finish remediation that has been ongoing since the 1990s, replacing contaminated yards in Anaconda and Opportunity, and closing off remaining slag piles.

The estimated cost to finish the cleanup is $83.1 million. Atlantic Richfield will cover those costs and will also have to reimburse the EPA and US Forest Service almost $50 million for completed remediation.

The proposed consent decree will now be subject to a 30 day period of public comment, and will need court approval before being finalized.

If you don’t know Butte Montana, you might have heard it’s one of the biggest toxic messes in the country. But now the “Mining City” is on the verge of sealing a deal that could clean it up once and for all. So how did we get here? What comes after Superfund? And who gets to decide?

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at john.hooks@umt.edu