Structure demolition resumes at former Asarco lead smelter site

by Eve Byron, Excerpt from Independent Record, reprinted in Billings Gazette

EAST HELENA — Say so long to the Ore Storage and “Barnum and Bailey” buildings at the old Asarco lead smelter site.

This week, crews started dismantling the imposing gray structure, which was built in 1990 to house metal-bearing ore prior to the smelting process. Cindy Brooks, head of the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust, which is responsible for the cleanup effort, estimated that the Ore Storage building is six stories high and larger than a football field.

Whenever there’s a break in that action, crews with Envirocon, a Missoula-based demolition firm, with turn their attention to the two bright green-and-peach-colored canvas buildings named for their resemblance to circus tents, added Mark Rhodes, an engineer with Hydrometrics.

“Right now they’re working inside of the Ore Storage building, getting the interior structures taken down,” Rhodes said. “They’re also drilling holes on the floors so that when you put the final cap on it, the water doesn’t pond; instead it goes into the ground.”

Once the inside work at the Ore Storage building is complete, Envirocon will use an excavator to start taking bites out of the top of the pre-cast concrete structure. The plan calls for turning the concrete into rubble while removing any rebar for recycling. The rubble will then be used as fill over the Ore Storage’s footprint.

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Editorial: New era in cleanup commendable

By Independent Record – An IR View | Posted: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

One look at year-over-year maps showing the underground arsenic and selenium plumes emanating from the old Asarco site in East Helena are enough to give residents, let alone environmental officials in charge of the cleanup, a great deal of pause.

Individual maps dating back a few years show “fingered” plumes reaching out toward the valley like a hand from the Asarco site. Stacked together, the maps collectively make it look like the elevated levels of arsenic and selenium are expanding, and quickly.

But looks can be deceiving, and the truth is as opaque as the big pile of black slag sitting there at the site of the former lead smelter.

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Groundwater Investigation: Elusive elements

By EVE BYRON Independent Record | Posted: Sunday, November 21

As the yard removal portion of the Asarco cleanup effort in East Helena is winding down, work on dealing with the arsenic and selenium plumes is just gearing up.

While the Environmental Protection Agency has known for a decade that the underground arsenic plume is flowing from the former lead-smelting plant toward one of East Helena’s city water wells and individual wells in the Helena valley, it hasn’t come up with a solution for dealing with it. Muddying the arsenic-plume situation was the discovery in 2006 of a plume of selenium in the groundwater that’s moving in the same general direction.

Asarco led the plume monitoring and analyzing effort in conjunction with the EPA, with thousands of water samples analyzed. But now that Asarco no longer is in the picture due to a year-old bankruptcy agreement, the EPA and the newly formed Montana Environmental Custodial Trust have brought in a trio of new faces to figure out what’s been done in the past, where data is missing, and how to move forward with a permanent solution that will protect the community’s health.

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Former Company Housing Demolition: ASARCO homes to be demolished

By EVE BYRON Independent Record | Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Former Asarco-owned residences in East Helena are being demolished as part of the ongoing cleanup effort.

As soon as NorthWestern Energy cuts all power to the homes on South Montana Avenue, adjacent to the former lead smelter site, all but one of the eight structures there will be torn down, according to Cindy Brooks, who heads the Montana Environmental Custodial Trust. The trust was created to hold on to Asarco’s Montana properties until they’re sold under a settlement agreement with the bankrupt company.

The former Asarco manager’s house, built in 1888, may be eligible for listing on the National Registry of Historic Places and might be restored as some type of museum or community center.

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