CORRECTION: This story was updated on April 12, 2018 to clarify the legal status of the Anaconda Superfund cleanup, see copy in bold below.
The EPA’s top regional administrator set a new timeline for completing cleanup of the Anaconda Superfund site, speaking today in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the Old Works Golf Course.
"We will start in complete de-listing parts of the Anaconda Superfund site this year, so that we can start to lift the stigma,” said Doug Benevento, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 office in Denver.
At today's public meeting, Benevento said he’s kicking off work on a final clean-up plan that his agency hopes will result in a binding legal agreement, known as a consent decree, between the federal government, the state, local authorities and Atlantic Richfield, the company responsible for cleaning up.
“We’re gonna start, hopefully this afternoon, discussions about what a consent decree would look like,” he said. “And we hope to be finished by July, and we hope to — and we will have the site de-listed — portions of the sites de-listed — by the end of the year. And I hope in 2025 there’s somebody standing here saying we’re done."
But, Benevento said, if a legal agreement can’t be reached, the EPA will issue a unilateral order that will tell the parties what to do.
Anaconda was declared a Superfund site in 1983, but the town and Deer Lodge County still don’t have a legally binding cleanup plan. Cleanup has been ongoing for years in the area around the Anaconda smelter, which processed copper ore from Butte and spewed pollutants like arsenic and lead for close to a hundred years.
Correction: Anaconda does have a legally binding clean-up plan for remedy known as the Record of Decision. There is currently no signed consent decree.
Mark Phillips, an engineer who lives in Anaconda, was among the more than 100 people at Tuesday's public meeting in Anaconda.
“We need to have full clean up now,” he said. “We need to find out what each and every hole result is, so those pockets of pollution can be identified, so that ARCO does not simply defer costs into the future, which effectively means that Anaconda is deferring its economic recovery.”
The EPA’s visit to Anaconda was prompted by community concerns about lingering health impacts from historic smelter pollution and a perception of high rates of cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and multiple sclerosis in the area.
An official from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was at the meeting and said the federal agency will be back in May to hold listening sessions and start designing a health study based on residents’ need and concerns.
EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento will be in Butte Wednesday, along with EPA Superfund Task Force Chair and Senior Advisor Albert Kelly. They will attend a public meeting at the public archives to share updates on the consent decree negotiations for Butte's Superfund site and other items on the community’s agenda.