Feet to the fire: Butte residents expect EPA to ensure a clean future for the young

Two children, a boy and a girl, played in soil where nothing grows. The girl fetched a rotted board from the bone-colored ground.

It could have been a scene from a century long past, during an era when pollution from mining and smelting in Butte thrashed vegetation and aquatic life, and threatened the health of adults and children alike.

That legacy lives on.

The children played on the evening of Aug. 24 in a blighted area known to state and federal agencies as Northside Tailings. It is slated for Superfund cleanup sometime in the years ahead. An estimated 60,000 cubic yards of tailings, wastes and contaminated soils will be excavated and hauled to a repository.

Design work comes first. EPA anticipates design for Northside Tailings, Diggings East and other sites in the Silver Bow Creek Corridor will be completed by 2025.

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A key and contentious design issue that has emerged this summer involves the potential use of what EPA refers to as onsite material and others call “grey dirt” or “dirty dirt.”

In essence, EPA and the Atlantic Richfield Co. have pitched using contaminated dirt that is onsite at places like Northside

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