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Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler visits Butte and Anaconda Superfund sites

Andrew Wheeler, the Environmental Protection Agency's acting administrator, right, and EPA Region 8 Administrator Doug Benevento listen to long-time Superfund watchdog Fritz Daily during a private meeting Friday afternoon at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives.

Butte and Anaconda were the center of the EPA's focus Friday.

With Andrew Wheeler, the agency's acting administrator, visiting both towns, it was heartening to listen to people in the communities who have cared about the cleanup speak so forcefully and eloquently to Wheeler. In Butte, that meant passionate, intelligent people making the case for why the agency, Atlantic Richfield, the state of Montana and Butte-Silver Bow all must redouble their efforts to make sure the cleanup we get is the cleanup we need and deserve.

First, thanks are in order. We are grateful to:

— Dr. John Ray, for speaking so thoughtfully about health concerns and environmental justice;

— Mick Ringsak, Sister Mary Jo McDonald, Fritz Daily, Northey Tretheway and Jocelyn Dodge, for their tireless advocacy for Butte, so well-expressed on Friday;

— State and local officials including Attorney General Tim Fox, Dave Palmer, Jon Sesso, Dan Villa, Karen Sullivan and Dan Olsen, for their various roles in making the Friday meetings as useful as possible (we are not sure, by the way, why other B-SB commissioners besides Olsen were not allowed to attend, as we need more engagement, not less, from that group on this issue);

— BP/Arco Vice President Patricia Gallery, Arco regional boss Loren Burmeister and MR's Mark Thompson, for being gracious listeners Friday;

— Wheeler, Regional Administrator Doug Benevento and their staffs, along with Sen. Steve Daines and his, for making this meeting happen.

Niceties attended to, we must stress that Friday's meeting could mean everything, or nothing. Very specific next steps are now necessary:

— Bring the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry back to Butte — as well as Anaconda — for substantive, wide-ranging and serious health studies. Butte cannot afford to sweep the dust under the rug — to assume there are no toxic exposure-related health concerns here just because it is most convenient — and in the short term, profitable — to do so. Facing this issue head-on is not "tearing down Butte" or "making us look bad" or "scaring people away." It is the reverse. An honest and thoroughgoing examination of our health issues here and their potential connection to toxics exposure is the only way we can truly move forward. Let's get this issue settled and dealt with, transparently and honestly. We must build on the recent health studies, not hide them, ignore them or dismiss them out of ignorance.

— As we study Butte's health, do not use any bureaucratic rationale to omit the Flat from serious study and from any remediation needed. We don't care for artificial bureaucratic boundaries. The entire city and county must be treated with equal respect and rigor.

— Any waiver of water-quality standards must be accompanied by a complete and robust system of monitoring and protection of the public health. A waiver is not a ticket to forget about water quality and about protecting people, for as long as the waiver and the pollution exists, from exposure.

— Get the first mile of the drainage right. Yes, the storm water, water availability, and logistical questions are complex and challenging. But as several speakers pointed out Friday, it will be impossible to declare success and have a delisting that really means something in this city unless this is tended to. And we believe the comparisons to Missoula, the removal of the Milltown Dam and the subsequent restoration there are absolutely fair and relevant. Why should Butte settle for less?

— No short-cuts, no decisions made for reasons of expedience. Make sure money is not an available excuse for doing a slipshod or incomplete cleanup and restoration.

— Make sure there also is money for operation and maintenance of the cleanup of the entire complex. Getting the initial work done in the next year or two will be exhilarating, just as it is exhilarating to see, finally, the excavation so sorely needed at the Parrot tailings site. But without money to treat water and maintain the entire system, the cleanup will never be all it can be.

— And no matter what else happens, keep the health of Butte in the forefront.

If we can get all of these points addressed, thoroughly, transparently and consistently, Butte, and our children and grandchildren, will have a real chance in the post-Superfund world.

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