FRENCHTOWN – The US Environmental Protection Agency says water samples are showing no evidence of enough dioxins to be harmful to people entering the Clark Fork River from the old Smurfit Mill site.
The announcement follows more than a month of concerns that flood waters along the berms separating the river from the old "cooling ponds" could be dragging contaminants into the river.
Missoula County and other local interests pressed EPA to take the samples after the flooding river reached its highest levels along the berms since the mill ceased operations in 2009.
The fears accelerated after a brown plume of water was seen along the shoreline where groundwater "boils" were seen coming up during the highest river levels.
EPA ordered samples last week and presented their findings Thursday night to the Smurfit Community Action Group in Frenchtown.
Remedial Project Manager Sara Sparks said while the samples did show small amounts of dioxins, they didn’t reach the levels where even drinking water is considered contaminated.
"So, thank God, we are not seeing elevated levels of dioxin in the river, at this time. That is a good thing," Sparks said.
She added there was some evidence of heavy metals at the sample sites, but at levels that were already suspected, and not enough to create an environment; "emergency."
Some in the crowd expressed some skepticism over the agency’s calculations but seemed reassured when Sparks promised the agency will do another complete round of its regular sampling, starting next week.