Arsenic-Spewing Smokestack Plagues Town Decades Later

Residents say EPA botched cleanup of contaminated soil, water
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 24, 2017 3:07 PM CST
Residents to EPA: You Flubbed Arsenic Cleanup in Our Town
In this Dec. 13, 2016, photo Serge Myers, right, speaks to George Niland, center, as their attorney reads a legal document in Opportunity, Mont.   (Matt Volz)

In Montana, there's a smokestack preserved as a state park that nobody can visit because of pollution at the site. Residents rallied to keep the stack, which can be seen from a viewing area about a mile away, as part of the legacy of southwestern Montana's mining days, when copper ore processed in the nearby town of Anaconda was used to electrify the US. The flip side of that legacy, per the AP: the arsenic and other toxic metals that spewed from the smokestack for nearly a century and settled in the ground for miles around the old copper smelter. Now dozens of residents in Opportunity, a small town nearby, say the feds have botched the cleanup and that they want a shot at cleaning their own yards. The state's Supreme Court will start hearing arguments April 7 to decide whether federal law prevents residents from seeking restoration damages in state court from BP-owned Atlantic Richfield Co., which ran the smokestack.

Three years after ARCO shut down the smelter in 1980, the EPA designated 300 square miles surrounding it as a Superfund site because of the risk to human health and the environment, with high concentrations of arsenic in the soil and water, a contaminant that can cause cancer and other diseases. Now 98 Opportunity residents are suing ARCO to force it to pay for the cleanup they want: the removal and replacement of all their soil to a depth of 2 feet, plus underground barriers to keep arsenic from flowing onto their property. Their aim is to cut the soil arsenic levels to about 15 parts per million, which they say is the natural level of arsenic in the soil. An EPA spokesman, meanwhile, says the work there has been completed and that the 250 parts per million cleanup threshold is within the federal agency's "acceptable cancer risk range." "The goal of the cleanup plan is to protect human health, not to restore soil levels to original conditions," he says. (More Montana stories.)

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