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Superfund during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Matt Vincent

Right now, everything is seemingly within the iron grip of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Our daily lives have been redefined by the government’s response. As of Tuesday, April 15, Montana has 404 confirmed cases, 50 cumulative hospitalizations and seven deaths to the novel coronavirus.

Things here in Butte might not be so bad since our population is a lot less dense than most places, even for Montana. We are blessed to be able go outside and enjoy the fresh spring air and sunshine as long as we practice our social distancing and appropriate preventative practices.

One unique aspect of our lifestyle here that doesn’t directly affect other places is how we cope with Superfund. From the Berkeley Pit to the Warm Springs Ponds there are a number of vital management, monitoring and associated activities necessary in order to keep the public and environment safe. Although these activities are obviously affected too, many of them cannot simply be left undone until the current health crisis is over.

Luckily, environmental protection is on the list of essential activities needed to continue amid the pandemic. As such, it’s been business as usual – with some obvious adjustments and additional precautions – for the entities, agencies and individuals caring for our Superfund sites.

The first Superfund site that likely comes to people’s minds is the Berkeley Pit. Rest assured, the vital water monitoring, treatment and management activities that keep the Pit safe are ongoing. The Horseshoe Bend water treatment plant and the new polishing plant on Shields Avenue are both operating, the latter which continues to release millions of gallons of clean, treated water into Silver Bow Creek each day. Montana Resources, Atlantic Richfield Company and their contractors are working just as hard with a new diligence toward staying safe amid the COVID-19 crisis – for themselves, their coworkers and the community at large.

Keeping the “community at large” safe also applies to ducks and geese. Not only are the responsible parties continuing to manage and treat the groundwater filling the Pit, but efforts to protect the migrating waterfowl heading north are also in full effect.

Likewise, most of the activities at the other Butte area Superfund sites are continuing with additional precautions or are being done in part or are on hold due to the current crisis.

At the Montana Pole Plant, the remedy in place continues to operate as normal, which includes a water treatment plant to remove organic contamination out of the groundwater before releasing it into Silver Bow Creek. Water treatment activities as well as dam stability monitoring is also ongoing at the Warm Springs Ponds site.

On the Butte Priority Soils, the Residential Metals Abatement program continues to sample and clean up contaminated yards, while interior work on residences has been temporarily suspended. Inside work will start again once our public health agencies and the EPA determine it’s safe to do so.

Outside work evaluating and maintaining reclaimed mine dumps and stormwater controls also continues, as well as work operating and maintaining the Butte Treatment Lagoons, a system that manages and treats the contaminated groundwater coming from the Butte Hill and historic Silver Bow Creek corridor.

Meanwhile, public outreach activities are still taking place, although in-person forums and face-to-face interactions are currently on hold. The agencies and the parties involved, which include Butte-Silver Bow local government have turned to on-line and electronic means to help educate the community as well as to answer its questions, address its concerns and accept its input with respect to the pending Consent Decree for the final cleanup plan.

Of course, the EPA and the responsible parties are keeping a very close eye on the situation and are ready to revise these operations if new guidance is developed or if situations change. In the meantime, if a citizen has any questions, he or she may reach out to me at matt@rampart-solutions.com and I can do my best to help. Even better, coordinate with EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Dana Barnicoat at (406) 560-6261 or barnicoat.dana@epa.gov . Questions about local health concerns related to the pandemic should be directed to the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department at 497-5020.

Lastly – or maybe firstly! – thank you to all of the Superfund workers putting themselves out there during this tenuous time in order to keep our public health and environment safe. We truly appreciate your efforts!

 

A Fed Ex delivery truck and a semi-truck bringing lime to the Butte Treatment Lagoons are signs that the essential groundwater collection and treatment plant part of the Butte Priority Soils Superfund site is operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With specific adjustments and precautions in place, all activities necessary to keep the Butte area’s Superfund remedies functional are ongoing.[/caption]

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