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Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
is prepared to walk away from the nation’s largest Superfund site, located
in Butte, Montana, according to a report issued today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, millions of cubic yards of
mine tailings, smelting slag and other wastes will drain in perpetuity into
the headwaters of the Clark Fork and Columbia Rivers, thus relegating the Butte-Silver
Bow area into an industrial dead zone with dim economic prospects.

The Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit site covers five square miles, making
it the nation’s largest Superfund site. The site lies in the upper Silver
Bow Creek valley, immediately west of the continental divide, and has for generations
received massive amounts of smelter waste. The site also contains the historic
city of Butte, the nation’s second largest National Historic Landmark

Under the pending arrangement, EPA is poised to make a formal finding of “Technical
Impracticability” that the tailings and other wastes cannot be feasibly
removed and therefore the aquifer on which is sits must be sacrificed. This
EPA finding will allow the responsible party, Atlantic Richfield Company (now
British Petroleum/ARCO), to walk away without fully cleaning up the site.

EPA’s decision is severely criticized in the PEER white paper, entitled
Cut and Run and written by geologists, hydrologists, hydrogeologists, soil scientists,
and engineers who have worked extensively with mine waste characterization and
reclamation in western Montana. These professionals critique the science behind
the decision to leave the tailings in place and detail the long-term consequences
of that decision.

Cut and Run argues that, contrary to its own procedures, EPA is making this
Technical Impracticability finding without proper characterization of the tailings
and without knowing how fast the contaminant plume is growing. EPA’s lack
of careful characterization not only violates its own guidelines but common
sense as well:

  • Public Health Threat Looming. Leaving wastes in contact with groundwater
    does not protect human health and the environment in this unique and pivotal
    hydrologic spot;
  • Environmentally Counterproductive. EPA’s plan puts all the reclamation
    work performed downstream from the headwaters at risk of recontamination or
    failure; and
  • Economically Devastating. Deferring cleanup indefinitely will impede Butte’s
    economic future.

“EPA’s plan to let the site be cleaned over geologic time condemns
Butte to centuries of contamination,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch, noting that the nomination of Susan Bodine to head EPA’s Superfund
Program is still pending before the U.S. Senate. “EPA is doing BP/ARCO
a huge favor that will save the company shareholders millions and leave taxpayers
holding the bag.”


Read Cut
and Run: EPA Betrays Another Montana Town

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