Tester calls for clean-up of Parrot Tailings
Citing contamination threat, Senator pushes to protect Butte groundwater
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is urging the EPA and Montana Department of Environmental Quality to work together to remove the toxic Parrot Tailings from below the ground near the Butte Civic Center.
Butte’s Parrot Tailings, the result of years of copper smelting, are permeating local groundwater and creating a toxic plume that could overwhelm the city’s filtration system and pollute local waterways, including the newly restored Silver Bow Creek.
Tester, citing scientists at Montana Tech, labeled the Parrot Tailings a serious threat to the region’s public health and reminded the agencies that leaving the tailings in place risks reversing previous restoration efforts to Butte’s water system.
“Leaving the 300,000 cubic feet of tailings in place jeopardizes the remarkable cleanup work conducted by both of your agencies and places an unacceptably high level of contamination into Butte’s stormwater filtration system,” Tester wrote to the two agencies. “I urge you to swiftly find the common ground and resources necessary to remove the Parrot Tailings.”
Tester added that recent estimates reduce the cost of removal by almost one-third, putting the project within reach of cooperative funding efforts.
The Parrot smelter produced blister copper in the late 1800s, leaving behind the metal-laden tailings. The Butte-Silver Bow maintenance shops and other facilities, including the Civic Center, sit on the tailings.
Tester is a leading advocate for the people of Butte. Just this week, he announced that SkyWest Airlines would service Bert Mooney Airport through the Essential Air Service, after Tester worked to make the initiative available for communities like Butte.
Tester’s letter to Jim Martin, EPA Region 8 Administrator, and Richard Opper, Director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, is available below and online HERE.
January 24, 2012
Mr. Jim Martin
Region 8 Administrator
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1595 Wynkoop St.
Denver, CO 80202-1129
Mr. Richard Opper
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
1520 E. Sixth Avenue
Helena, MT 59620-0901
Dear Mr. Martin and Mr. Opper:
I write regarding potential removal of the Parrot Tailings, located at the south end of the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit. Montana Department of Environmental Quality data demonstrates that groundwater moves quickly through the tailings, creating a toxic plume. This leads scientists at Montana Tech and many citizens to believe that a removal action is warranted, and I agree with them. Leaving the 300,000 cubic feet of tailings in place jeopardizes the remarkable cleanup work conducted by both of your agencies and places an unacceptably high level of contamination into Butte’s stormwater filtration system. There are also real concerns that because of the size and the speed at which the plume is moving, it will not be captured by the current system and will eventually pollute the newly restored Silver Bow Creek and downstream waterways.
I understand there is an assortment of financial and technical issues surrounding the removal of these tailings and I am confident these can be overcome. Specifically, I am optimistic that the financial issues surrounding the removal of these tailings can be addressed by cooperation in financing and planning between all the involved parties. With the latest cost estimates for removal reduced by almost a third, this project’s completion is within reach of a cooperative funding effort.
In the interest of human health, environmental restoration and the future economic health of Western Montana, I urge you to swiftly find the common ground and resources necessary to remove the Parrot Tailings.
Thank you for your consideration.