Anaconda-Deer Lodge County is questioning whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to sample the schools in the Smelter City for heavy metals is thorough enough.
Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Chief Executive Bill Everett sent a letter to EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento last week stating that, given the way EPA drew up the plan, the result will “be biased against finding any contamination.”
EPA will discuss the plan at the upcoming Anaconda School Board meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Little Theater in the Anaconda High School. The school board is expected to vote on the plan during that meeting. If the school board gives the approval, then EPA will sample for heavy metals, particularly arsenic and lead, in the three schools’ interiors over spring break, March 26 through April 2.
Everett’s chief complaint is that the plan is not complete enough and lacks plans for sampling attics, crawl spaces, and areas above drop ceilings as well as in the heating, ventilating, and cooling systems of each school or other areas where EPA might find smelter dust from years ago. Everett also wants the air monitored in the schools during normal school hours and old light fixtures removed and checked as well as all ductworks, filters, condensate pans, and heat exchangers in the heating and cooling systems in the schools sampled for contaminated dust.
EPA responded to Everett’s letter to Benevento through a formal report. EPA wrote that the plan does “include sampling of inaccessible dust in locations such as the tops of ceiling tiles, boiler room pipes, etc.” EPA also stated that the tops of ceiling tiles, where accessible, will be sampled, but no attics or crawl spaces were identified during the 6 ½ hour walk-through of the schools officials took in December.
EPA said the agency will not remove light fixtures and will sample dust from lights that are easily accessible. As to air monitoring, EPA stated that the air quality will be tested while workers are stirring up dust to sample for contamination.
Another concern of Everett’s is that of timing. EPA would be more likely to find contaminated dust that has drifted in or been tracked in on the bottoms of kids’ shoes in late summer, he wrote to Benevento.
School board president Bryan Lorengo raised that issue at the January school board meeting.
EPA agrees with that concern and stated in the agency’s formal report that if conditions during the March test “prevent collection of a representative dust sample” from the specialized floor mats that will be used to determine what the kids are tracking indoors, then EPA will do another round at the end of the school year.
According to the report, EPA is responding in part to the school board's request to have the work done by the end of this school year and not have the concern drag into the 2018-2019 school year.
Anaconda school superintendent Gerry Nolan responded to The Montana Standard's request for comment by stating that the school board trustees will meet with EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality at the next school board meeting. Anaconda School Board President Bryan Lorengo previously emailed the Standard to say that all media inquiries go through Nolan.
Everett first raised the issue of checking on Anaconda’s three schools for heavy metals last year after the county discovered lead and arsenic at high levels in a children’s sandbox in a public park in Anaconda. According to EPA, the agency had the park checked for heavy metals years ago and found the park to be safe.
EPA also sampled the grounds of the three schools years ago and found nothing of concern.
But EPA has never sampled dust in the interiors of the schools. One county official previously said all three schools were likely built in the 1940s or 1950s.
The Washoe Smelter, which sent tons of arsenic and lead and other metals into the air for eight decades, shut down in 1980. The smelter processed Butte’s raw copper ore, impacting about 20,000 acres, according to EPA's report released last week about the school sampling plan.
Everett told the Standard last week that he has done what he can to ensure the schools are thoroughly checked out.
"We're hopeful more extensive sampling will be done, but ultimately it's up to the authority of the school board to determine if this is sufficient," Everett said.