In a key development in a long-running Superfund environmental cleanup effort, Atlantic Richfield Co. has agreed to pay for and finish the remediation of the Anaconda Smelter Superfund site in southwestern Montana, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dept. of Justice announced.

Under a consent decree lodged in the U.S. District Court in Butte, Mont., on Sept. 30, the company, now part of British Petroleum, has pledged to complete the cleanup work it has been performing at the 300-sq-mile Anaconda site under EPA directives issued since the 1990s.

Atlantic Richfield will pay $48 million to the Superfund program's Anaconda site account for the federal agencies' costs plus about $185,000 to the U.S. Forest Service for future oversight of cleanup work on lands that agency administers at the site.

In addition, the firm will cover the estimated $83.1-million cost of remaining cleanup activities at the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County site. 

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and requires approval by the court. Signatories include Atlantic Richfield, EPA, DOJ and the state of Montana. 

State law requires that the decree be open for public comment, concurrent with the federal comment period.

According to the consent decree, the signatories intend that the settlement will "resolve [Atlantic Richfield] liability for all response actions, response costs and operation and maintenance activities at the Anaconda Site."

The document also states that the does not admit that "any release or threatened release of hazardous substances at or from the Anaconda Site constitutes an imminent or substantial endangerment to the public health or welfare or the environment."

Federal and State Agencies Comment

Todd Kim, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division, said that the consent decree follows other settlements with the company that have resulted in substantial improvements at the site.

Amy Steinmetz, Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality's waste management and remediation division administrator, said in a statement, "A lot of great cleanup work has already been done and this consent decree will ensure that remaining remediation needs are funded and completed."

The estimated cost of the all the cleanup work to date at the site is $500 million.

Jesse Laslovich, U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana, said in a statement, "I was born in Anaconda the same year the smelter closed and while I never saw smoke coming out of the smokestack that still stands over Anaconda, I know what it represents."

Laslovich added, "It is a symbol representing the hard work of many Anacondans, including members of my family, that built our town. But it's also a symbol of a Superfund site that has existed for far too long."

The Site's Long History

In 1884, what was then the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. began copper concentrating and smelting operations at the location. 

Atlantic Richfield bought the smelter in 1977; operations ended three years later and the facilities were dismantled.

But the more than 100 years of milling and smelting produced what EPA says are “high concentrations of arsenic, lead, copper, cadmium and zinc,” which contaminated soil, groundwater and surface water.

In 1983, EPA added the Anaconda smelter site to the Superfund National Priorities List.

According to EPA, the cleanup has been completed at several areas of the site. In those locations, operation and maintenance work is ongoing. In other locations cleanup is underway.

Completed remedial activities include cleanup of almost 1,000 residential and commercial properties, with more than 3 million cu yd of waste removed from the community and consolidated onto company property.

In addition, more than 5,000 acres of the smelter and disposal areas have been capped and revegetated, and about 1,000 acres of new wetlands created.

Paul Takahashi, an Atlantic Richfield spokesperson, said in a statement: “We are pleased to have reached this major milestone and look forward to continuing our partnership with the EPA, the state of Montana and Anaconda-Deer Lodge County to complete this important work."