October 31, 2006

ARCO-BP has been hearing from a variety of sources that its plan to control dust at it repository at Opportunity falls short of being effective and that the company needs to go back to the drawing board.

On October 12, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to ARCO-BP (PDF) outlining the required measures to deal with the chronic dust problem at its mine waste repository near Opportunity in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. The EPA wrote that ARCO-BP’s dust plan lacked “sufficient specifics” about how the company would control the dust. In its revised plan, due later this year, ARCO-BP must provide details on guidelines it will use for implementing best management practices to control dust.

In addition, the EPA called for the development of a community plan that would keep Opportunity residents informed about public health issues and work at the site. The plan calls for continuous real-time monitoring of finer grain dust particles within Opportunity and Warm Springs and also requires the dust samples be analyzed for metal content. Information on the dust will be disseminated to the community through newsletters, websites and postings in the community.

ARCO-BP, the legally responsible party for the cleanup of the majority of Superfund sites around the Clark Fork Basin, owns and manages the repository. The 3500-acre repository was originally the dumping ground for mine wastes from the Anaconda smelter. In 1980, the smelter closed and the repository was put on care and maintenance. The company had a dust suppression program at the repository but was discontinued in 1996. The repository has since become the ultimate destination for toxic sediments from Superfund sites from around the Clark Fork River watershed, including Milltown.

Local residents have been increasingly vocal about the possible health effects of airborne dust, which at times clouds the area around Opportunity, Warm Springs and even as far as the town of Deer Lodge. Last March, CFRTAC and the Opportunity Citizens Protection Association (OCPA) organized a community meeting on the dust issue. ARCO-BP subsequently released a dust mitigation plan in the spring, which CFRTAC technical advisors found to be inadequate to the task of abating the fugitive dust. Among other things, the CFRTAC review found that the plan did not contain a “clear or tangible commitment to prevent or respond to future dust events beyond whatever ARCO or its contractors may voluntarily choose to do.” And beyond that, the plan had not “been noticeably effective in addressing ongoing dust events,” which continued through the spring and summer.

In July, the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Commissioners wrote to the EPA, DEQ and Governor’s Office. That letter warned that around the Opportunity site “the public’s health, safety and general welfare are being adversely affected from both existing conditions and those exacerbated by the current cleanup efforts.” It also requested that “the state and federal agencies do everything within their power to further address this matter.”

The county’s letter received some local media coverage and resulted in a contentious commissioners meeting. Workers of the local contractor showed up en masse, fearing their jobs may somehow be at stake. “The county took quite a bit of heat for these recommendations on the issue of jobs,” said Jim Kuipers, the Superfund technical advisor to Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. “We think dust mitigation is likely to increase employment opportunities.” EPA estimates that currently ten workers are assigned to dust mitigation.

On September 28, environmental justice champion Lois Gibbs returned to Opportunity to lead a community meeting on the dust issue that was attended by key decision makers from the EPA, the Dept. of Environmental Quality and ARCO-BP. Also on the 28th, the DEQ sent a letter (PDF) requesting that EPA direct ARCO-BP to adopt a number of additional mitigation measures. Since then, the EPA has convened several roundtable discussions with community members, local and state representatives, which has resulted in the basis for the recommendations for ARCO-BP.

Independent of the planning effort, ARCO-BP has begun to step up its dust control by applying a polymer surfactant – a thin plastic film of sorts — to some of the more problematic acreage at the site. “Workers at the site can cover roughly 70 acres per day and as of mid-October had covered more than 300 acres, with 400 more possible this fall.

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