Saturday, March 25, 2017

98 Montana Residents' Lawsuit Challenges Mining Company To Step Up, Conduct Appropriate Environmental Cleanup Of Their Land, Homes Contaminated By Nearly A Century Of Contamination Caused By Its Now-Shuttered, Toxin-Spewing Smokestack

In Opportunity, Montana, The Associated Press reports:
  • George Niland wonders whether he should wear a respirator when he mows his lawn. Serge Myers laments not being able to garden in his backyard. Rob Phillips puzzles over why his 22 acres have been marked as an unblemished island surrounded by a sea of contamination.

    The three men all live in the shadow of a 585-foot-tall smokestack that has been preserved as a state park that nobody can visit because of pollution at the site. Visitors are guided to a viewing area about a mile away to see the stack, which is taller than the Washington Monument.

    Residents rallied to keep the stack as part of the legacy of southwestern Montana's mining days, when copper was king and the ore processed in the nearby town of Anaconda was used to electrify the United States.

    The flip side of that legacy is the arsenic and other toxic metals that spewed from the smokestack for nearly a century and settled in the ground for miles around the old copper smelter.

    Three years after BP-owned Atlantic Richfield Co. shut down the Anaconda smelter in 1980, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated 300 square miles surrounding it as a Superfund site because of the risk to human health and the environment. The major concern was high concentrations of arsenic in the soil and water, a contaminant that can cause cancer and a range of other diseases.

    Niland, Myers and Phillips are among dozens of residents in this small company town next to Anaconda who say federal officials have botched the environmental cleanup, which is in its 34th year, and they want a shot at cleaning their own yards. They claim the EPA and Atlantic Richfield have given their community short shrift, partially cleaning only two dozen yards, and now have no plans to return.

    "We've watched it over the years, and they've cleaned completely around us," said Niland, a former worker for the railroad that hauled ore and slurry between Butte and Anaconda. "We didn't even know we were contaminated until we got our dirt sampled and then found out that, geez, we shouldn't even let the kids play out there."

    Ninety-eight Opportunity residents are suing Atlantic Richfield, also known as Arco, to force the company to pay for the cleanup they want: the removal and replacement of all their soil to a depth of 2 feet, and permeable barriers installed underground to keep arsenic in the shallow groundwater from flowing onto their property.

    Their aim is to cut the level of arsenic in the soil to about 15 parts per million, which they say is the natural level of arsenic in the soil. However, the EPA's remediation plan won't clean a residential yard unless it contains more than 250 parts per million arsenic — a level that Opportunity residents call arbitrary and worry is still unsafe.

    "We'd like it cleaned up to what it would have been had the smelter not existed," Phillips said.
For more, see Montana landowners say government botched arsenic cleanup. foundry environmental protection agency EPA smelter

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