Local businesses got an update today on the cleanup at the former Columbia Falls aluminum plant. The plant was listed as a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency last month.
Many of the two dozen local business representatives at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon were concerned about the timeline of the cleanup and who is ultimately in charge of declaring the area free of contamination.
The big fear is that waste from the plant, including cyanide and fluoride, has already or will contaminate local drinking water. There’s no evidence of harm at this time, and a full water and soil quality report prepared by the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company won’t be ready until next spring. Cleanup likely won’t begin for another several years.
Robert Moler is the EPA’s Montana-based community involvement coordinator. He says the process is long for a reason.
"We want to be careful," Moler says. "We want to make sure we know exactly what's there, where it is, what it is and what concentrations. If you start doing work too early, you find out additional data, you might do more harm than good."
Moler stressed the need for community involvement. Locals know the area better than the EPA, he said, and the EPA should tap into that knowledge.