Fall of Asarco

Water is poured at 9,000 gallons per minute on the first down stack at the Asarco plant as the other two make their way down after nearly a century holding the East Helena landscape in this IR file photo from August 2009.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Montana Environmental Trust Group are holding an open house Wednesday to discuss a draft report for environmental cleanup in East Helena.

In 1998, a century of contamination at the East Helena lead smelter site and other facilities resulted in a multimillion dollar settlement between Asarco and EPA for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act. The smelter closed in 2001, and after later declaring bankruptcy, Asarco placed about $95 million in a trust managed by the Montana Environmental Trust Group. The state of Montana is represented in the trust via the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Montana Department of Justice along with the EPA.

The trust controls both the smelter site and Asarco-owned lands in the area. Contamination includes arsenic and selenium at the site, as well as groundwater plumes.

In the years since the settlement and ahead of the corrective measures study detailing the final cleanup plan, contractors have analyzed contamination and performed “interim measures” addressing pollution. These interim measures include capping the site to stop storm water from spreading contamination.

The draft corrective measures study provides alternatives for the final cleanup that the public can weigh in on.

“The meeting will provide the public with an important opportunity to learn about and comment on the CMS Report,” according to a news release. “The open house will feature informational exhibits about cleanup, redevelopment and community programs and activities.”

The public meeting will include a brief presentation on the CMS Report followed by oral public comment. Formal public comment will be recorded and EPA will respond to comments received during the public comment period in the final corrective measures study report.

Written comments may be given to EPA at the public meeting or sent to: Betsy Burns; EPA Region 8 Montana Office; 10 W. 15th St.; Suite 3200; Helena, MT 59626. They may be emailed to: burns.betsy@epa.gov. The public comment period for the CMS report ends on May 29 at 5 p.m.

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Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin


Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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