Friday, January 19, 2018

Two superfund sites compared by someone with knowledge

Columbus, MT Superfund Site
When I came through Columbus in 1958 on Highway 10, it was a quiet place with little traffic. The trip was to Bozeman to study civil engineering at MSU.
On a visit to Columbus in 1970, I had been requested to find more details regarding information received by Anaconda Company about a parcel of land owned by the company at Columbus near the railroad. When looking at the property, small yellow crystals on the surface were noticed. Little did I know that the site would become a “superfund site”.
During a recent visit to the Stillwater County Library a report for FMC Corp. dated 1955 was made available. The report described some alternatives that could be taken to reduce the chromium content in the groundwater and soil at and near the site. Some steps were taken and completed.
The effort of those steps taken is based on a 2008 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, data reported 1994, 2002, 2007-2014, and chromium concentration monitoring well data records from Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology (with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality- DEQ). Results from these reports indicate the improving water quality to be significant. At monitoring well number RMIS-4 (near disposal site), total chromium went from 5500 to 15 ug/L (micro grams per liter) in 20 years including 2014. The target standard was 100 ug/L.
Looks like success.
Anaconda Company
Marcus Dally was the “founder of Anaconda” according to the author Issac Marcossan in his 1957 book, Anaconda. Over 50 installations including the Kelley mine, Butte open pit, Smelters (Anaconda and Great Falls) in the United States, Chile, Canada, and other countries are described.
Critical supplies of metal including lead, cadmium, bismuth, iridium, arsenic, platinum, selenium, manganese, chrome, aluminum, brass and uranium were supplied by Anaconda for domestic consumption, both world wars and military hardware.
The mine, concentrator, smelter and refining facilities have in the last 100 years been an asset and provided jobs for thousands of people.
Butte and Vicinity
In 1972, U.S. congress passed and President Nixon signed the Clean Water Act (the same year he went to China). William Ruckelshaus was Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Director at that time. In 1970 I went to work for Anaconda in Butte after receiving a MS degree in Civil/Environmental Engineering. The first job was to work on the Silver Bow Creek quality from Butte to Warm Springs.
The primary source of groundwater discharged to the Silver Bow Creek in the 1970s was from the Kelley mine and some from leach pads. The mine water was acidic containing heavy metals and other dissolved solids. Some of this water is still reaching the open pit.
When the mine and smelter were closed, these sites—Silver Bow Creek and part of the Clark Fork River from Warm Springs to near Bonner, MT—were included as Superfund sites—probably the largest superfund site in the country. It was a large area and expensive to clean up.
The remaining work on the superfund sites relies heavily on weather. Rain and snowmelt contribute water to the open pit. Will the pit water level continue rising? Will the pit water be diluted enough to leave untreated? Pit water levels and quality have been monitored 30 years including 2014
The cost-benefit analysis is yet to be completed. Let’s hope the ratio is higher than one.
Looks like success—almost.
George McArthur
Columbus