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Frustration, distrust in EPA voiced over Superfund cleanup in Butte

Many residents voiced objections to the EPA’s standard for lead levels in the soil, which is higher than levels in other areas.
Posted at 8:04 AM, May 03, 2023

BUTTE - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wanted input from the Butte community during a meeting on May 1, 2023, about its cleanup efforts.

Officials got an earful at the recent community meeting and much of it was frustration and even distrust in the agencies responsible for the cleanup.

“We’re talking about the health of not only your adults … children. And God forbid, you are poisoning the children of this community, hell has no fury like Butte citizens,” said Butte resident Chris Fisk.

Representatives from the EPA met in Butte, along with EPA Region 8 Administrator KC Becker via video conference call, to hear comments and concerns from the public over the Superfund cleanup of past mine waste due to over a century of mining.

Many objected to the EPA’s standard for lead levels in the soil, which is higher than levels in other areas.

“Over 50% of the folks they tested their drinking water exceeds the action levels of the EPA has set and my question is when the EPA going to update the community on the Westside Soils,” said Dr. Seth Cornell of the Butte Board of Health.

Some have questioned the use of partially contaminated soil — known as gray dirt — to cover areas where polluted soil has been removed.

“And to take gray dirt that still is polluted to cover an area that is cleaned up is one of the most asinine things I ever heard in my life,” said Butte resident Mick Ringsak.

Many complained that little progress has been made in the cleanup effort since Butte signed the consent decree three years ago.

“Between the EPA, ARCO, the State of Montana, all the other whoever else you want to add, you’ve lulled this community to sleep. You’ve done nothing, you’ve done nothing to protect us,” said Butte resident Ron Davis.

The EPA noted the concerns and Butte Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher assured that independent studies will be done to examine lead levels and other health concerns.

“And I understand the distrust and I understand it, but we have to work together to get to the ends of the means. So, I want you to know this isn’t going on deaf ears on our local government, we’re fighting for this,” said Gallagher.