Environmental groups share progress for East Helena's smelter site restoration

Posted at 8:18 AM, Dec 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-14 10:31:38-05

EAST HELENA — On Tuesday, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Environmental Trust Group shared progress with the East Helena community site related to several projects aimed at cleaning up and restoring land at the former East Helena smelter site.

With more than a century of lead smelting, it contaminated the soil and groundwater at the former ASARCO smelter site in East Helena.

Soils and waters from Prickly Pear Creek to two man-made lakes contaminated with lead and other metals posed a threat to people, birds, and other organisms that could come into contact with the soil which is why the slag removal is being discussed.

The topics the panel discussed were the remediation and restoration to finalize the completion of opening the Greenway Trail, the removal of the temporary bypass channel, used to relocate Prickly Pear Creek, and the removal and shipment of un-fumed slag to South Korea continued in 2022 and will be followed by capping the production of slag as well.

Cindy Brooks, the Managing Principal of the Montana Environmental Trust Group, believes completing those projects will benefit the health of the community.

"The benefits of removing the upper left of the slag are economic, environmental and really stakeholder benefits," said Brooks.

Working to achieve those future benefits, the project has run into some issues along the way.

"The project has been underway for the last year and a half and there have been delays associated with supply chain issues, labor shortages, essentially the economic barriers that people have run into as a result of COVID and the pandemic," said Brooks.

Brooks said working on this project is special to her.

"My organization does all over the country and East Helena is the kind of our star. We're very honored to be able to work with the people from EPA, the state, the city, the county. It's it's great," said Brooks.

So far 777 acres of the 900 formally owned by ASARCO, have already been sold or donated for public and private projects.