‘It’s pretty clear what we need to do’: cleanup of East Helena smelter site in full swing

by Tom Kuglin, Excerpt from Independent Record

From atop the black mass of the East Helena slag pile, Environmental Protection Agency project manager Betsy Burns pointed to the features of an engineered floodplain and creek channel where Prickly Pear Creek will one day flow.

Heavy machinery revved and chirped below — to the east digging the channel, and to the west constructing a cap of rock and topsoil over contaminated material below the surface.

“Every day you come out here it’s pretty amazing the amount of material they’ve moved,” Burns said.

In 1998, contamination from Asarco’s lead smelter resulted in a multimillion dollar settlement with the EPA for violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act. The smelter closed in 2001, and after later declaring bankruptcy, Asarco placed about $95 million in a trust managed by the Montana Environmental Trust Group for related cleanup costs.

The trust has spent approximately $25 million to date, Burns said, which is “on track” with budget expectations. The majority of material used has been available on site and crews moved about 500,000 cubic yards of material this season, she added.

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