Montana Public Radio

Anaconda Copper Company

What can we learn from the ways political corruption shaped Montana's past? And how can we keep up with all the special interests trying to influence voters today?

Listen now on Shared State Episode 09: "For This And Future Generations"

After more than 30 years in limbo without a final cleanup agreement, the ink is drying on Butte’s big Superfund deal as we speak. What it means and why it matters has everything to do with what played out when Superfund came to Montana’s Mining City. So today we’re asking: back in those early days of Superfund, who were the players, and what was the game?

This is episode 06: Our Most Cherished Beliefs.

In August 1917, Frank Little was the victim of a grisly murder in Butte. Little was a labor organizer who came to Butte to unify and radicalize Butte’s miners in their fight against the Anaconda Mining Company for higher wages and safer working conditions. Most historians believe that the Anaconda Company was behind Little’s killing, but no one knows for sure. A note pinned to his underwear threatened, "Others take notice: first and last warning," along with the numbers 3-7-77, the calling card of frontier vigilantes.

David Dorian, an environmental health specialist with ATSDR, discusses a new exposure investigation at a public meeting at Anaconda High School. July 11, 2018.
Nora Saks

The federal agency that investigates health risks at Superfund sites is in Anaconda this coming weekend offering free arsenic and lead testing to the first 200 people to sign up.

Results from this study could influence the final cleanup deal currently being negotiated for the Anaconda Smelter Superfund site.

Public tours of the Anaconda Smelter Stack are being offered to celebrate the stack's 100th anniversary. August 9, 2018.
Nora Saks

If you’ve ever driven through Southwest Montana on I-90, you’ve probably noticed the lone smoke stack standing sentinel near Anaconda. That’s the iconic Anaconda Smelter Stack - one of the tallest free-standing masonry structures in the world.

For over a century, the smelter processed copper ore from Butte, and the stack belched thick smoke out over the valley. The public has been forbidden from visiting it for nearly four decades. But this year, for it’s 100th anniversary, tours of the stack are being offered. I hopped on one Thursday.

Tom Laughlin of Anaconda, MT says he has an autoimmune disease and he's concerned about the health impacts of the old copper smelter in town.  He met with officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during a public health listening sessi
Corin Cates-Carney

More than 35 years after the Anaconda copper smelter closed, federal health officials are partnering with state and local governments to visit the town and to listen to people’s health concerns possibly related to the toxic waste left behind.

From 1:30 to 7:30 Thursday afternoon at the Anaconda senior center, locals could stop by and talk to government scientists and doctors about their worries.

Columbia Falls Aluminum Company
Courtesy Columbia Falls Aluminum Company

To many Columbia Falls residents the full closure of the local aluminum smelter was more a matter of when than if.

That question was answered with certainty this week when Columbia Falls Aluminum Company announced that it's permanently shuttering the plant.

Local real estate agent Bill Dakin say this development was a long time coming.

"This announcement, finally, an honest announcement that this plant will never refine aluminum again, is kind of a new day here."

When your lab class is 100 feet underground

Oct 8, 2013
Dan Boyce

Montana Tech mining engineering junior Krystal Martin and the eight other students in her lab class were taking turns using a heavy, pneumatic, jack-leg drill to bore six foot holes into a solid rock wall last Friday. It’s definitely louder than the average college lab course, and rather than crisp, white lab coats, students wear mud-soaked work boots, dust streaked faces and hard hats.

About 22,000 men worked the underground mines of Butte at the city’s peak, hauling 20,000 tons of ore back to the surface every day.

But, that was almost 100 years ago.