Butte Superfund: Then, Now and Yet To Come.

Last week, I explained more about the EPA’s proposed plan to modify the cleanup of Butte’s urban Superfund site, the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit, or BPSOU. Specifically, I made a statement that the proposed waiver of specific state water quality standards for copper and zinc is not a “free pass” by any stretch. This is true first, because of all of the cleanup work that’s been done since 2006, when EPA released its first “record of decision” for the BPSOU.  


It’s also true because there is a ton of additional work the EPA proposes for the Atlantic Richfield Company to perform. This proposal was the focus of public presentations a few months ago, which included graphic renderings of the cleanup features and public amenities to be constructed in the upper Silver Bow Creek corridor between Montana Street upstream to Casey Street by the Columbus Plaza. The additional cleanup also includes work on Blacktail Creek, Grove Creek, sites on the Butte Hill and an expansion of the residential metals and arsenic abatement program. The renderings of much of this proposed additional work is on display in the rotunda of the Butte Courthouse. But that’s not all…


Superfund “Before & After”

Whenever you hear a gripe about Butte’s Superfund saga, it invariably includes how long it’s taken. There’s a lot of truth or at the very least, good reason for that gripe. EPA listed Butte’s BPSOU site in 1987. We will finally get a “consent decree,” which is usually the final decision on a Superfund site, in 2019. That is an inordinate amount of time, indeed – even by Superfund standards.


But what you don’t hear often enough or in as much detail, is all of the work that’s been done in between.  EPA began eliminating the worst risks to human health and the environment in 1988 and work has been ongoing in one way, shape or form ever since. Work done previously is regularly maintained and monitored. If monitoring on a site shows a problem, it is resolved or the site is redone, if necessary. New work is identified and completed, is part of the final work outlined in the Proposed Plan or will become part of the Consent Decree in the coming months.


While it may seem so at times, no one has been sitting on his or her hands these past 30 years. Hundreds of millions of dollars of work has employed thousands and thousands of hours of local labor, cleaning up hundreds of acres of land, hundreds of homes and many miles of waterways. The physical and chemical improvements to our environment and community today, compared to when this Superfund story began are profound. Economically speaking, the “green collar workforce” that performed this vast remediation and restoration in Butte and Anaconda may have helped us survive in more ways than one.


Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency by some to emphasize what’s not been done or what is not included. I’m holding out hope that our community and the cleanup will be characterized by what significant good we’ve done. Anything left undone can either be done in time, or not at all, for good reason.

In the meantime…

June 11 is the deadline for citizens to submit their thoughts to EPA about its Proposed Plan for cleaning up Butte’s urban Superfund site, and it’s less than a month away. The federal, state and local governments, representatives from British Petroleum/Atlantic Richfield Company and others are working hard to answer the public’s sometimes-harder questions.


To that end, there were two Superfund-focused meetings held earlier this week, and there are plenty more to come (see the breakout, Upcoming Superfund Meetings). At the beginning of this Wednesday’s Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners meeting, there will be time for Q&A with the county Superfund staff. BSB Staff is also presenting to the Butte Chamber of Commerce board on Thursday morning.


Next week, Joe Griffin, a now-retired, former Superfund manager from the Montana DEQ, will give a presentation on the Proposed Plan to Council on May 22. Joe gave a version of this presentation previously for CTEC at the Archives. Then, on May 23, at 6 p.m. at the Montana Tech Library Auditorium the EPA will host its final public meeting where citizens can ask questions about the Proposed Plan and make comments.


Photo Cutline:  The Bell-Diamond headframe on the northern Butte skyline, as seen from a walking trail in the Granite Mountain-Speculator Interpretive Area. More than 500 acres of barren mining wastes like those seen in the photo foreground have been reclaimed under Butte’s Superfund cleanup since 1987.  



·       Wednesday, May 15, 7:30 p.m., Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse, 155 West Granite Street, Superfund Q&A with Commissioners and BSB Superfund staff.

·       Thursday, May 16, 9:00 a.m., Montana Tech campus, Student Success Center, BSB Superfund Staff presentation on the Proposed Plan to the Butte Chamber of Commerce (Note: this is a Butte Chamber board meeting. Space and attendance may be limited)

·       Wednesday, May 22, 7:30 p.m., Butte-Silver Bow Courthouse, 155 West Granite Street, Joe Griffin presentation to the BSB Council of Commissioners.

·       Thursday, May 23, 6 to 8:30 p.m., Montana Tech campus, Library Auditorium, EPA Public Meeting and Public Comment on the Proposed Plan.