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Montana site contaminated by copper smelter for final cleanup

By MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press

BILLING, Mont. (AP) — A London-based subsidiary of oil giant BP has agreed to finish cleaning up a 300-square-mile (776-square-kilometer) site in Montana that is contaminated with arsenic and other contaminants from decades of copper smelting, and pay the US Government $48 million in response costs.

Under a legal decree filed Friday in US District Court, the Atlantic Richfield Company has agreed to finish cleanup work on residential yards in the cities of Anaconda and Opportunity. It will also clean up soils in the surrounding hills and address any remaining piles of contaminated waste at the site.

Arsenic and toxic metals were spewed out of a 585-foot-tall smokestack in Anaconda for nearly a century, and the contamination settled into the ground for miles around. It is the toxic legacy of the mining days in southwestern Montana, when copper ore processed in Anaconda was used to electrify the United States.

“King of Copper” Marcus Daly and Anaconda Copper Mining Co. began smelting Butte copper ore in 1884. In 1977, ARCO purchased Anaconda Co. and inherited vast land contaminated with arsenic, lead, copper, cadmium, and zinc from the ore. . -processing operations and stack emissions. Subsequently, under the federal Superfund law, ARCO became retroactively liable for that contamination.

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Three years after Atlantic Richfield closed the Anaconda smelter in 1980, the US Environmental Protection Agency designated it a Superfund site due to risk to human health and the environment. The main concern was the high concentrations of arsenic in the soil and water, a contaminant that can cause cancer and a variety of other diseases.

The company previously said it had spent $470 million to clean up the site under multiple federal orders. The remaining work is estimated to cost $83.1 million.

People concerned about the harm to their health had long complained that the US Environmental Protection Agency had botched the cleanup. A tentative agreement to finish the job was first announced more than four years ago.

Montana US Attorney Jesse Laslovich, who was born in Anaconda, said the towering smokestack at the site was a symbol of both the hard work that built the community and the pollution that went on too long.

“Our water will be cleaner, our soils will be purer, our scum will be covered and our future will be brighter thanks to this historic agreement,” Laslovich said in a statement.

The chimney is now a state park that no one can visit due to pollution.

In 2021, Atlantic Richfield quietly settled a civil lawsuit filed in 2008 by 98 people at Opportunity and the Crackerville community. They wanted restoration damage to pay for a more thorough cleanup than ARCO planned under the federal Superfund law. Details of that deal were not disclosed.

Friday’s settlement must be approved by a federal judge and is also subject to a 30-day public comment period. It was signed by representatives from Atlantic Richfield, the EPA, the US Department of Justice, and Montana Governor Greg Gianforte.

John Davis, a lawyer who has represented ARCO, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the deal, nor did BP representatives.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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