Montana Resources is taking action to look at larger particulate matter in the Greeley neighborhood.
Ed Banderob, a Greeley-based activist, has been asking the Council of Commissioners to consider the issue of dust in the neighborhood adjacent to MR’s mine operation at recent council meetings. This week’s Wednesday evening assembly was no exception.
But MR has been quietly taking action and is not waiting for the wheels of agencies or local government to turn. MR has equipment on order that would monitor larger particulate matter, said Mark Thompson, MR vice president for environmental affairs. He said he’s been in discussion with state officials already and has a meeting planned for Monday with the county health department on the issue.
John Rolich, BSB environmental health division manager, said by phone Thursday that the health department is in “the preliminary stages” of a discussion on the dust issue that involves multiple state agencies.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Quality said DEQ could not answer the Standard’s questions Thursday but could respond later in the week.
Thompson said he has been talking to state officials for a month already. He said the equipment the mine has ordered will monitor both larger particulate matter as well as wind speed and direction.
“We’re doing it right,” he said.
The equipment will give officials a reading on what’s in the air on an hourly basis.
“We’ll know exactly what activity is occurring at the time of the particulate loading,” Thompson said.
Banderob said he is grateful MR is concerned about the dust.
“We hope we can work together on a program to control and monitor the dust,” Banderob said.
Banderob’s worries come partly from a study Katie Hailer, a Montana Tech chemistry professor, conducted a few years ago that found arsenic and manganese to be elevated in a very small group of Butte residents.
Those 116 Butte residents whose hair and blood Hailer sampled lived all over Butte, not just in Greeley.
But one of Hailer’s air quality monitors was stationed in the Greeley neighborhood, directly across from MR’s mining operation. Her air quality monitoring found elevated arsenic and manganese in the dust.
While EPA shifted air quality monitoring to much finer particulate matter years ago based on the belief that the fine dust is the greatest danger, Hailer says larger particulate dust is ingested by the body, and that could be a “major route” of exposure.
Hailer’s study was published in “Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology.” In order for her study to be significant, she needed to have thousands of residents to participate.
But what has given Hailer’s findings weight in recent months is a subsequent study conducted this year by Professor Suzanne McDermott, an epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina-Columbia. McDermott found that from 2000 to 2015, Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties had considerably higher brain, liver, and colorectal cancers than all other Montana counties as well as significantly higher deaths from cancer, heart disease and stroke, and organ failure.
Banderob has said repeatedly he is not trying to hurt the mine or cause job loss. But he and others in Greeley are worried about their health and the potential impacts MR’s dust might be having, given these recent findings.
Banderob has also requested the council to ask agencies for a special Superfund designation specific to Greeley. In addition, he has pushed for a special focus group, though exactly how that will be formed, who will lead it, and what it could accomplish is all unclear.
The council moved Banderob’s request Wednesday through a procedural vote to Dave Palmer, county chief executive, to talk to the county health department about Banderob’s concerns.
A message was left with Palmer's office Thursday.