Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:10 p.m. on July 11 to reflect that the following information was left out of the original story:
Once the EPA has agreed to recommendations made by the OIG, then following through with making those changes is "not optional," she said.
The Office of Inspector General also asked that the following sentence be added for greater clarification:
The OIG does not have the power to compel the EPA to agree to any recommendation. When the agency disagrees with an OIG recommendation, a nuanced and complicated process to try to resolve the disagreement follows. The ultimate outcome is not at the OIG’s discretion.
From stories of a disease-ridden town to remediated soil that has “treasures” in it, about 10 Anaconda residents spoke up Wednesday to tell the Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog about the EPA’s performance.
The Office of Inspector General, or OIG, chose Anaconda as one of eight EPA sites to hold a “listening" session Wednesday at Fred Moodry Intermediate School. The OIG will create a report, based on residents’ comments both in Anaconda and at the other seven sites. The report will have recommendations for the EPA to make improvements on how it communicates health risks to the public.
But residents talked about far more than health concerns. More than one said their yards had been remediated and the replacement soil had unusual items in it — from petunia roots to little toys to pottery shards.
Stacy Caissey, who said she found nails and pottery in her new soil, also wanted to know why the EPA is allowing workers to toil in the 135-acre slag pile where employees have been discovered to have elevated arsenic levels.
Caissey said the things she’s finding in her yard are starting to get to her.
“We’re living in an “Erin Brockovich” movie right now and it’s not OK what’s going on here,” she said. “It’s not OK for my kids or my dogs.”
“Erin Brockovich” was a 2000 film starring Julia Roberts portraying a real-life mother who fought a polluting energy company in California.
Luke Pokorny, Atlantic Richfield's project manager for Anaconda, said after the meeting he needed more time to respond to the public’s comments but he said he would look into the claims of items in the new replacement soil laid to replace contaminated dirt.
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Another resident, Betsy Pahut, said she believes 90% of people living in Anaconda are “dealing with an autoimmune disease.” She said she knows four mothers in Anaconda whose babies had been diagnosed with a very rare disease called Trysomy 18 or Edward’s Syndrome. She said her own daughter was also diagnosed with a baby carrying the same disease while her daughter was in her second trimester. The baby died during childbirth, Pahut said.
According to the Trysomy 18 Foundation, the disease is caused by an error in cell division and is largely fatal. It occurs in 1 out of every 2,500 pregnancies and in one in every 6,000 live births.
“I wanted to let you know that there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye,” Pahut said.
Only about 10 people spoke out of roughly 35 in attendance. The meeting ended nearly an hour early.
Jill Trynosky, OIG program manager, said more spoke at OIG meetings at the other sites the Washington, D.C. officials already visited but she said “not that many more.” The OIG provided paper surveys for those who came and she said she is looking forward to seeing what residents will write.
There is still opportunity for residents to voice their opinions in writing on the EPA’s ability to communicate what the health risks are of living in a Superfund site for 37 years. (See information box.)
Trynosky said the OIG hopes to have the report completed by the end of the year. Once the EPA has agreed to recommendations made by the OIG, then following through with making those changes is "not optional," she said.
The OIG does not have the power to compel the EPA to agree to any recommendation. When the agency disagrees with an OIG recommendation, a nuanced and complicated process to try to resolve the disagreement follows. The ultimate outcome is not at the OIG’s discretion, said an OIG spokesperson through email.
“If the EPA does not agree with our recommendations, there is a remediation process to go through,” Trynosky said.
Congress will also get the OIG’s list of recommendations and congressional leaders will have the ability to question EPA officials on the OIG’s findings.
Trynosky said the OIG will give the EPA time to make the recommended changes. She said there is a possibility that after some time has lapsed, the OIG could return to Anaconda to do a followup to ensure the EPA does implement the changes the OIG recommends.
Butte was not on the list of sites the OIG visited. The two other Superfund sites were in East Chicago and New Hampshire. The other four sites require remediation but fall under other EPA categories.