Advocates want more testing at Smurfit-Stone Superfund site near Missoula
Scientists, federal administrators and Missoula County residents met Thursday to discuss taking a closer look at a contaminated Superfund site along the Clark Fork River.
The meeting marked a culmination of years of requests from Missoula County scientists and residents that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conduct more sampling for cancer-causing chemicals at the site of the former Smurfit-Stone pulp mill. Missoula County commissioner Josh Slotnick said he was grateful the EPA agreed to meet.
“This feels, already, just the fact that we’re here, like a step forward,” Slotnick said. “And I wanted to start this off with a message of optimism and hope — that we’re really grateful.”
The EPA has overseen sampling for toxins at the more than 3,000-acre site for nearly a decade, but locals say the work wasn’t enough.
Members of a group advocating for the cleanup of the site asked for more targeted sampling of groundwater, ditches and sludge ponds over a longer period of time to better detect chemicals that don’t mix well with water. The group also hopes to identify the currently undetermined source of those chemicals on the former industrial site. Smurfit-Stone sits on a historic floodplain and its unlined waste ponds may come into seasonal contact with groundwater.
Missoula County also requested new studies of fish and osprey near Smurfit-Stone to determine if the chemicals from the site have reached the Clark Fork River. The state previously issued a “do-not-consume” advisory for northern pike caught along that stretch of river due to unsafe levels of cancer-causing dioxins and PCBs.
Any additional sampling must be agreed upon by the “potentially responsible parties” — companies that the EPA has identified as “on the hook” for future cleanup.
The EPA says that input from the meeting will be consolidated into a sampling work plan that the public will have an opportunity to comment on before the new study moves forward. The sampling will push any cleanup action at Smurfit-Stone to later this decade at the earliest.