EPA, Montana mining company pledge action after intimate relationship revelations – High Country News – Know the West

Previous reports have shown how regulators and the mine have teamed up to refute independent investigators.

Following revelations about the Environmental Protection Agency’s friendly relationship with a mining company in Butte, Montana, the EPA this week announced a series of measures aimed at “increasing transparency” and engagement with the local community.

Those steps include more frequent public meetings, reviewing public health data to “identify potential gaps,” and hiring a community engagement coordinator to work in Montana.

Meanwhile, Montana Resources, operator of the active copper and molybdenum mine at Butte, said last week it would fund research into the health impacts of mine dust.

View of the city of Butte from the top of Montana Resources’ open pit copper and molybdenum mine in Butte, Montana.

Erick Doxey for InvestigateWest

Ads come in response to a InvestigateWest story published last month which uncovered how the EPA coordinated with Montana Resources to refute independent, peer-reviewed research that suggested the mine may be causing a “potential public health emergency.”

E-mails between the EPA and Montana Resources, first reported by InvestigateWest, angered some residents concerned about the mine’s health impacts and how the EPA handled questions about it. Derf Johnson, a policy advocate for the advocacy group Montana Environmental Information Center, said that since the story broke, the mine has “come to the table” offering to fund additional research. The EPA, meanwhile, is doing “damage control,” he said.

“The story pushed things to the limit in terms of people’s suspicions about how the city worked,” Johnson said.

EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker visited Butte last week to hear directly from officials and community members, including Montana Technical University bioinorganic chemist Katie Hailer, whose research was the subject of email correspondence between the mine and officials. from the EPA.

A view of the mine through the windshield of Mark Thompson’s truck at Montana Resources’ open pit copper and molybdenum mine in Butte, Montana.

Erick Doxey for InvestigateWest

“During the visit, my team and I heard from community members about their desire for more transparency and we are taking steps to ensure that the community can be meaningfully involved in decisions related to cleaning up the Superfund,” Becker said in a statement.

Hailer did not return a message seeking comment on the meeting.

The Butte area has been designated a Superfund site by the EPA due to past mining that left behind toxic waste. Montana Resources and the Atlantic Richfield Company are tasked with remediating the Superfund site, but Montana Resources also operates an adjacent mine across the street from a residential neighborhood in Butte. For years, locals have been concerned about the mine’s proximity to locals and the potential health effects it could cause.

These concerns were fueled by a 2019 study that found high levels of heavy metals in Butte meconium samples or a baby’s first poop. The researchers involved — Hailer and environmental epidemiologist Suzanne McDermott — acknowledged potential flaws in the small, underfunded study, but pressed the EPA to replicate the study on a larger scale. Instead, EPA officials worked to cast doubt on it while, behind the scenes, encouraging Montana Resources to do the same, InvestigateWest found.

In a press release this week, the EPA said it will be taking “several actions” to increase transparency “related to the agency’s ongoing Superfund cleanup efforts” in Butte. When asked what kind of health data in Butte will be reviewed, EPA spokesman Richard Mylott said it would include blood lead data and ongoing assessment of cancer rates, tumor registries and other “relevant health studies.” “, along with any “significant gaps related to health concerns.”

“We will work with partners and engage with the community as we go forward, and will examine options for collecting additional information as necessary and appropriate,” said Mylott.

But the EPA said it lacks the authority to support research into questions about the health impacts of the current Montana Resources mine. Asked whether the EPA will consider funding further research after the 2019 meconium study or examining the effects of the active mine, Mylott said authority resides with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

View of the Berkley Pit water treatment plant at the Montana Resources copper and molybdenum open pit mine in Butte, Montana.

Erick Doxey for InvestigateWest

Johnson, the policy advocate, said the EPA is speaking “out of both sides of its mouth.”

“On the one hand, they are saying they have no responsibility for the active mine. And on the other side they are working to discredit science [regarding the active mine]”, Johnson said in an interview.

Now, the mine itself says it will fund research on these questions. Mark Thompson, Montana Resources’ vice president for environmental affairs, said last week that he had offered to fund research into the health effects of mining dust and even invited Hailer to be a part of it.

Mylott told InvestigateWest that the EPA “would consider ways to support the effort if asked,” but was not approached.

For now, Johnson is skeptical that the EPA will be as transparent as it claims.

“I’m glad they are looking at this and taking it seriously. But the proof will be in the pudding,” Johnson said. “It’s all about how they move forward.”

InvestigateWest (invw.org) is an independent non-profit news organization dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. Talk to reporter Wilson Criscione at [email protected]. This story was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. We accept letters from readers. Email News from Upper Country at the [email protected] or send a letter to the editor. see our letters to the editor politics.

EPA, Montana mining company pledge action after intimate relationship revelations – High Country News – Know the West

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top