Montana Public Radio

Superfund

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official says a Montana area emitting toxic vapors is a candidate to become a federal Superfund site.

The Billings Gazette reports contaminants from old dry cleaning solvents are evaporating at several spots in an 855-acre (355-hectare) area in Billings.

Nora Saks

Wednesday night, Anacondans got a rare chance to speak directly about their experience with Superfund to the national office that investigates the Environmental Protection Agency. And most of what they had to say wasn’t complimentary.

Anaconda residents have attended countless Superfund meetings over the last 36 years. But unlike the others, this one wasn’t hosted by EPA.

EPA Region 8's Betsy Smidinger and Greg Sopkin met with community stakeholders at Archives on Tuesday,  June 11, 2019.
Nora Saks

The national office that audits the EPA is in Anaconda this week holding a listening session about the Superfund cleanup there.

Superfund is a priority for the EPA, according to the new chief of EPA Region 8. Montana Public Radio's Nora Saks sat down with him during his first visit to Butte last month to find out more about his priorities.

EPA Region 8 Administrator Greg Sopkin chats with Butte residents Evan Barrett and Mick Ringsak after a community stakeholder meeting at the Butte-Silver Bow Archives on Tuesday, June 11, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

The national office that investigates the EPA wants to hear what people in Anaconda think about the Superfund cleanup there.

The independent Office of the Inspector General (OIG) looks for fraud, waste and abuse in the Environmental Protection Agency. It also evaluates EPA’s programs, like Superfund, and makes recommendations on how they could be improved.

Eric Hassler (L) and Jon Sesso (R) are Butte-Silver Bow's Superfund operations manager and coordinator, pictured here at Catch Basin 8. May 28, 2019.
Nora Saks

The deadline for comments on EPA’s proposed changes to Butte’s Superfund cleanup is fast approaching. MTPR's Nora Saks went in the field with two of Butte-Silver Bow’s Superfund staff to find out more about the county’s take on the plan, their role, and what stormwater’s got to do with it.

Loren Burmeister (L) and Josh Bryson (R) are the liability business manager and operations project manager for Atlantic Richfield in Butte, pictured outside the company's local headquarters. April 22, 2019
Nora Saks

After more than 30 years, the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Montana and Butte Silver Bow County are close to signing a final Superfund deal with Atlantic Richfield for the cleanup of the Butte Hill and creek corridors in town. Atlantic Richfield, the former American oil giant, is the company on the hook for most of the pollution caused by historic mining and smelting operations in Butte and across the upper Clark Fork River basin.

The Berkeley Pit.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Atlantic Richfield is proposing to build a new water treatment plant to further lower the level of the toxic lake inside the Berkeley Pit, in case the tailings dam that sits directly above it ever fails.

I live a mile away from the Berkeley Pit, the mile by mile and a half wide former open-pit mine, which is now filled with a 50 billion gallon toxic lake. Every time I visit, I leave hyper aware of the contradictions and compromises that go hand in glove with industrialization. I find myself wondering: who thought chiseling a colossal hole in the Earth was a good idea, and why? So today, let’s take a dive, figuratively, into open pit mining and some controversial decisions made late last century that changed Butte’s land, people, and environmental legacy forever. This is Episode 4: We Gave it to the Pit.

Barbara Miller with Habitat for Humanity, is concerned that the residential action level for lead in Butte that triggers cleanup is too high. May 23, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

On Thursday night, Ian Magruder stood up in front of a crowd of about 100 at the Montana Tech Library Auditorium in Butte and addressed a panel of officials from the state and federal environmental protection agencies.

"I stood here in this room 15 years ago and railed against the EPA for their proposed plan at the time. And I thought it was a joke. Today I feel differently."

Butte-Silver Bow County's Superfund Coordinator Jon Sesso stands in front of the overlook at Foreman's Park in Butte in June 2018.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

Thursday night the EPA is taking public comment in Butte for the second time on the agency’s proposed changes to the Superfund cleanup plan for the Butte Hill and Upper Silver Bow Creek.

EPA released its “proposed plan” in April. It recommends some fundamental changes to the 2006 legally binding Superfund cleanup plan. That includes expanding stormwater capture and treatment, replacing some state water quality standards with federal ones in Butte’s creeks, and capping more mine waste.

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