Montana Public Radio

Researcher To Present Butte Health Study

Oct 17, 2018

A new study on human health risks associated with mining recently made waves in Butte, and on Thursday the author is giving a talk at Montana Tech to discuss her findings with the public.

Suzanne McDermott is a professor of epidemiology at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina with family ties in Butte.

Her team analyzed death records, and found that from 2000-2016, adults in Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties were dying from cancer and several other diseases at higher rates than the rest of the state. In August, their peer-reviewed study was published in the journal, Environmental Geochemistry and Health.

McDermott’s research has raised questions about how well residents are being protected from historic mining and smelting waste in Butte and Anaconda, and how effective ongoing cleanup efforts under the Superfund program have been.

The team acknowledges limitations to its study. For one, their population-level findings are based on assumptions about how individuals are being exposed to toxic metals, which may not be correct. And there are challenges with using death records and multiple-causes of death.

She says the study is not necessarily definitive about mining-related health risks in Butte.

McDermott’s talk is part of the Montana Tech’s Cafe Scientifique lecture series, and will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Copper Lounge in the Student Union Building.