BUTTE, Montana, October 3, 2022 (ENS) – The Atlantic Richfield Company, ARCO, has agreed to spend $131 million complete its cleanup of the Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site in Deer Lodge County, Montana, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday.
The state of Montana, on behalf of the Department of Environmental Quality, also signed the consent decree lodged in the U.S. District Court in Butte, Montana.
Over a century of milling and copper smelting operations at the town of Anaconda, high concentrations of arsenic, lead, copper, cadmium, and zinc were produced. These wastes polluted the soils in yards, commercial and industrial areas, pastures and open spaces throughout the 300 square mile (777 square km) Anaconda Smelter Superfund Site.
This pollution has contributed to the contamination of creeks and other surface waters at the site, and polluted alluvial and bedrock groundwater. The closure of smelting operations in 1980 left large volumes of smelter slag, flue dust and hazardous rock tailings that have had to be secured through a host of remediation methods.
Under the settlement, Atlantic Richfield, a subsidiary of British Petroleum, will complete numerous remedial activities that it has undertaken at the Anaconda site following EPA administrative orders since the 1990s.
Cleanup is complete at several areas within the site, according to the US EPA. At these areas, operation and maintenance activities are ongoing. Cleanup is underway at the remaining areas.
Remedies that have been completed are currently protective of human health and the environment. Where remedies are not complete, access is controlled to prevent human exposure to waste.
Among other actions, Atlantic Richfield will finish remediating residential yards in the towns of Anaconda and Opportunity, clean up soils in upland areas above Anaconda and eventually effect the closure of remaining slag piles at the site.
The estimated cost of the remaining site work, including operation and maintenance activities intended to protect remediated lands over the long term, is $83.1 million.
In addition, Atlantic Richfield will pay $48 million to reimburse the EPA Superfund Program for EPA and Department of Justice response costs, and will pay $185,000 to the U.S. Forest Service for oversight of future remedial activities on lands the Forest Service administers at the site.
“We are pleased that Atlantic Richfield has agreed to finalize its long-term cleanup of the Anaconda Site,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today’s consent decree follows other important settlements with Atlantic Richfield over the past two decades that have substantially improved the environment and restored valuable natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork basin. This settlement is also the product of a successful federal-state partnership to secure cleanup of a major hazardous waste site.”
“I was born in Anaconda the same year the smelter closed and while I never saw smoke coming out of the smokestack that still stands over Anaconda, I know what it represents,” said U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District of Montana. “It is a symbol representing the hard work of many Anacondans, including members of my family, that built our town, but it’s also a symbol of a Superfund site that has existed for far too long.”
“If the smokestack represents our past, this consent decree represents our future. Many people, some who are no longer with us, worked diligently to get us to this point and I’m grateful beyond words for all of their work,” Laslovich said. “Our water will be cleaner, our soils will be purer, our slag will be covered, and our future will be brighter because of this historic agreement.”
In 1884, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company and its predecessors started large copper concentrating and smelting operations at the area presently known as the Old Works on the north side of Warm Springs Creek next to the town of Anaconda. It operated until about 1901.
Around 1902, ore processing and smelting operations began at the Washoe Reduction Works [also called the Anaconda Smelter, the Washoe Smelter, the New Works, and the Anaconda Reduction Works] on Smelter Hill, south of the Old Works and east of Anaconda.
In 1977, Atlantic Richfield Company purchased the Anaconda Co. Smelter. Operations at the Anaconda Smelter ceased in 1980 and the smelter facilities were dismantled. But during more than 100 years of milling and smelting, high concentrations of arsenic, lead, copper, cadmium, and zinc were produced. These wastes contaminated soil, groundwater and surface water with hazardous chemicals.
In September 1983, EPA placed the Anaconda Co. Smelter site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List to address the contamination.
“I am very pleased to announce the release of the proposed 2022 sitewide consent decree for the Anaconda Smelter NPL Site,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “Over the last several decades, EPA and MDEQ have made great strides in ensuring the cleanup of open space, residential areas, creeks and groundwater by Atlantic Richfield throughout Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. This cleanup of contaminated soils that impact surface waters and remediation of the largest slag piles at Anaconda builds on that progress.”
Redevelopment is Already Underway
The construction of the Old Works Golf Course, located in the Old Works/East Anaconda Development Area, was designed by world-famous golfer Jack Nicklaus. The first golf course to be built on a federal EPA Superfund site, it incorporates historic relics. A unique visual feature of the golf course is the use of ground black smelter slag in place of sand in the sand traps.
Cleanup actions also addressed residential and commercial properties next to the golf course. Numerous homes have been constructed next to the golf course and plans for development of a recreational park are being developed.
In 2008, Community, Counseling, and Correctional Services Inc. built a regional prison facility on a cleaned-up area of the site. In 2010, NorthWestern Energy completed the construction of the Mill Creek Generating Station, a natural gas-fired electricity generation facility. The facility opened in 2011 and anticipates that the station will generate about $200 million and employ 11 people during the station’s operation.
AWARE Inc. has also completed construction of a campus for disabled individuals on the site in the East Anaconda Yards.
In 2017, ground was broken for the construction of a plant to reprocess smelter slag from the slag pile to produce industrial products like proppant and pig iron.
The consent decree filed today in U.S. District Court in Butte, Montana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.
Under Montana state law, the Department of Environmental Quality is separately required to put the consent decree out for public comment. The state’s public comment period will run concurrently with the federal public comment period. The consent decree will be available on DEQ’s website at: https://deq.mt.gov/News/publiccomment-folder/Anaconda-CD-9-22.
The consent decree and other information related to the Anaconda Site are available on EPA’s website at: www.epa.gov/superfund/anaconda-co-smelter
Featured image: The original 585-foot Anaconda Smelter smokestack remains standing and is the tallest freestanding masonry structure in the world. Taller than the Washington Monument, the smokestack sits in Montana’s smallest state park, Stack State Park. (Photo courtesy YellowstonePark.com)