Former Montana Mill Eyed As Possible Superfund Site

September 18, 2012

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the former Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. pulp mill in Frenchtown has potentially dangerous levels of dioxins, heavy metals and other hazardous chemicals, a finding that could lead to the area becoming a Superfund site.

The Missoulian reported in a story published Thursday that a 183-page analytical results report by the agency also raises concerns about risks to the Clark Fork River should a levee fail that’s holding back sludge and wastewater ponds.

“There are red lights coming up for dioxins and furans, particularly for soils in the sludge ponds,” said Chris Brick, science director for the Clark Fork Coalition, a nonprofit river monitor. “It appears the levels weren’t high enough to qualify for an emergency response action from the EPA. But we can show contaminants have migrated to shallow groundwater and stream sediments.”

Montana Department of Environmental Quality director Richard Opper said more specific analysis is needed before a decision is made about whether the project warrants federal oversight or should be handled through the state’s version of Superfund cleanup. But he said the report gave the state direction in how to deal with the site.

“Even if not every inch was covered on the property, there already appears to be sufficient contamination from a cursory examination to warrant a Superfund listing,” Opper said. “It looks like the more you dig, the more you’ll find.”

Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss agreed.

“It looks like there’s enough stuff to trigger it qualifying to be on a Superfund list,” he said. “That matters a lot just because the financial and staff recourses needed to oversee this site would be substantial. So federal and state oversight would be good.”

It’s unclear if someone with ownership of the mill site will be held financially responsible. Smurfit-Stone went bankrupt in 2009, and the company in 2010 closed the mill. The site was then purchased by MLR Investment, which then sold it to Green Investment Group Inc. in May 2011. The site contains a 100-acre industrial complex bordered by 900 acres of settling, sludge and wastewater ponds, all located in the Clark Fork’s flood plain.

“We have received and are in careful review of the Analytical Results Report from the Environmental Protection Agency,” Mark Spizzo, Green Investment Group Inc. vice president, said in an email to the newspaper. “We have been working cooperatively with the EPA throughout their inspection and will work in tandem with them to gain full understanding of the situation and to determine any further actions. As always, the health and safety of the citizens of Missoula County is our No. 1 priority.”

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