Anaconda residents have a chance to report to Congress on Wednesday about how good a job the Environmental Protection Agency has done communicating with the community during the 36 years the Smelter City has been a Superfund site.
The EPA’s watchdog, the Office of Inspector General, is holding a listening session from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Fred Moodry Intermediate School Auditorium, 219 E. Third St. The meeting is part of a report, expected to come out later this year, on the EPA’s ability to communicate to residents the health risks associated with living in a Superfund site and how the community can protect itself and its health.
This will be Anaconda’s only chance to let the EPA’s internal watchdog know how the federal agency is doing on this issue.
Jill Trynosky, OIG program manager, said last week that this meeting is part of a larger audit on the EPA’s ability to communicate with residents on how to reduce risk and protect health.
One thing the OIG will be specifically considering is if the public understands what the EPA has been telling the community all these years.
"We'll be looking at whether they are understanding what they’re hearing (from the EPA), so the listening session is really critical,” Trynosky said. “What questions do they have?”
The EPA has produced a room full of documents over 36 years and provides many voluminous documents on its website regarding the contamination and the cleanup. One of the things the OIG will be considering is how well the EPA is communicating the information within those reams of reports to the people living and working in the town.
Anaconda is one of eight sites the OIG is studying and one of only three Superfund sites. The other spots on the National Priorities List are a former lead facility in East Chicago and a defunct landfill in New Hampshire. No similar study is planned in Butte.
The other sites OIG is gathering data from fall under other EPA categories.
Trynosky said the reason for the review of the EPA’s performance is because “questions have come up,” on whether the EPA is doing its job on communicating to residents. She said the OIG will be looking to see if the EPA needs to improve in its communication skills with the community and if it is adhering to its own practices and policies and federal regulations.
Trynosky said the OIG is independent from the EPA. Its funding comes directly from Congress and it reports directly to Congress. Trynosky said the OIG's reports on how the EPA can improve has made a difference in the past.
Bill Everett, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County chief executive, said one of his concerns is that the EPA produced a preliminary study last year that indicated that lead dust that could drift from Anaconda’s 130-acre slag pile is more absorbable than previously thought.
The report has never been released to the public. The Montana Standard received an anonymous copy of the report and wrote a story about it last spring. Everett said he has not seen any subsequent follow up study and the EPA has not held a public discussion on the issue.
Everett also expressed some frustration over the fact that the public continues to be barred from Anaconda’s Superfund negotiations.
"We're under a gag rule where we can't say anything so how can the EPA be evaluated on what they're not telling?" Everett asked. "Communication is horrible."
Rose Nyman, long-time community watchdog, said this is “25 years overdue.” Nyman also wondered what “finally got their attention.”
“The last several years are the only forward movement we’ve seen,” she said. “I didn’t realize this is as important as it is. I've got it on my calendar. We should try and get a crowd.”