MISSOULA – The Environmental Protection Agency says it will take more sampling and study before cleanup plans for the old Smurfit Stone mill site are finalized. The Clark Fork Coalition maintains one part of the property needs immediate attention.
This week, the team from EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality told Missoula County leaders they’re set for another season of sampling on the site, with the goal of finding “data gaps” as they narrow in on possible sources of contamination.
But county commissioners and the Clark Fork Coalition are concerned about waiting to deal with the mill’s old “landfill” near the industrial core of the Smurfit site. The worries are driven by these pictures taken by former mill employees that surfaced a couple of years ago, showing barrels of waste generated during decades of operations.
“You know, it’s about five million cubic yards of materials in unlined, largely unregulated containment facilities,” said Clark Fork Coalition Science Director John DeArment. “We know that they are in contact with groundwater. That they’re have been documented releases of arsenic, manganese, and dioxins to groundwater in excess of state standards, or proposed state standards. In the case of manganese they’re about 600 times the levels of the proposed standards. We know that shallow aquifer is in contact with the Clark Fork River.”
EPA and DEQ say they’re still trying to figure out the complicated hydrology on the site, and need a complete picture, working cooperatively now with the “Potentially Responsible Parties”, or PRPs, that had owned the mill.
“We understand that the broader site, it’s a really big site. It’s four miles long. It’s over 3,000 acres,” DeArment said. “Yeah, some of that needs some further study to really characterize the waste. But in that critical waste management area, where we’re seeing those chronic discharges to the groundwater in the Clark Fork it’s time to get moving and and cleaned out. We don’t see any reason to delay. Or really anything that the EPA or the PRPs could discover in the interim that would change that basic conclusion that we’ve got to address this.”
EPA is treating parts of the Smurfit lands individually. Known as “operational units”, the portion of farm land has already been found generally free of contaminants. DeArment says the Coalition would like to see the waste dump, and that uncertain barrel location, treated as its own zone.
“What we think at the waste management area we should carve it, they should carve it out separately and deal with it under a more expedited timeline because it is very polluted. And, at the moment, you know as much as possible it’s contained in that area. But as time goes by it just slowly trickles out, enters the environment, enters the food chain. So the time is now. The sooner we deal with it, the more if it we keep contained in there. The more of it we ultimately clean up.”
EPA told county leaders Wednesday that if any evidence develops of an immediate contamination problem at the waste dump while testing continues, the agency has the authority to order an emergency cleanup.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News