Montana Has The Worst Superfund Site, But How Many More Do We Have?
The Superfund program was created in 1980 and actually has a much more complex name: the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). All the most toxic sites in the country were basically put on a list, and hopes were high that somehow, some way, sometime - they'd get 'cleaned up'.
"The Berkeley Pit is a former open pit copper mine in the western United States, located in Butte, Montana. It is one mile (1.6 km) long by one-half mile (800 m) wide, with an approximate depth of 1,780 feet (540 m). It is filled to a depth of about 900 feet (270 m) with water that is heavily acidic (2.5 pH level), about the acidity of Coca-Cola, lemon juice, or gastric acid."
To be fair, it depends on what scientific magazine you're reading to say that the Berkeley Pit in Butte is the worst superfund site in America, but it is one of the most concerning and one of the least likely to be 'cleaned up' anytime soon. Montana's mining industry has landed several sites on to the Superfund list and we'll take a look at where they are.
There are currently 18 sites in Montana on the National Priorities List according to the Environmental Protection Agency. "Hazardous waste sites become eligible for CERCLA/Superfund cleanup when EPA receives a report of a potentially hazardous waste site from an individual, state government, or responsible federal agency."
- ACM Smelter and Refinery
- Anaconda Aluminum Co Columbia Falls Reduction Plant
- Anaconda Co. Smelter
- Barker Hughesville Mining District
- Basin Mining Area
- Billings PCE
- Carpenter Snow Creek Mining District
- East Helena Site
- Flat Creek IMM
- Idaho Pole Co.
- Libby Asbestos
- Libby Ground Water Contamination
- Lockwood Solvent Ground Water Plume
- Milltown Reservoir Sediments
- Montana Pole and Treating
- Mouat Industries
- Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area
- Upper Tenmile Creek Mining Area
Will the Berkeley Pit ever get cleaned up? It's very difficult to say, as finding much info about plans for actual cleanup is harder than you think. The few things we DO know don't sound like final solutions by any stretch of the imagination. According to Wikipedia:
A treatment plant was completed in 2019 and began treating the water in the pit before it would contaminate local groundwater. The plant cost $19 million and was designed to treat ten million gallons of water per day.
That's about for plans for cleanup. Not encouraging. One thing you'll find that IS curious is the reviews online from sites like Trip Advisor about the actual Berkeley Pit. They go a little something like this:
- "On one hand, it's $3 to walk to see a pit with a toxic lake. It is interesting and hard to believe that this is pretty recent history. Noise is played to keep birds away (the lake will kill them). A few good signs describing the pit."
- "Interesting part of Butte, Anaconda mining history. Berkeley pit shows the amount of work and effort it is taking to clean up the toxic waste of the mining of years ago. Interesting how they have noise makers to keep birds, and wild animals from wandering onto the water of the pit."
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