Region 8

East Helena Site

East Helena Site location map Site Type: Final NPL
City: East Helena
County: Lewis and Clark
Street Address: S. of East Helena
ZIP Code: 59635
EPA ID: MTD006230346
SSID: 0830
Site Aliases: American Smelting & Refining, ASARCO Inc E Helena Plt, East Helena Smelter

What's New?

Updated November 2011

We have just completed the third five-year review of the cleanup actions at the East Helena site. It concludes that the remedy at OU1 (process ponds) is not protective because implementation of the Record of Decision is incomplete. Completion of the RCRA investigations, and identification and implementation of appropriate corrective actions, are needed to ensure protectiveness for this Operable Unit.

The remedy at OU2 (residential/agricultural lands) is under construction and is expected to be protective of human health and the environment upon completion. In the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled.

You may read the five-year review report the in the Site Documents section below or at the EPA office in Helena.

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Site Description

The East Helena Superfund Site includes a lead smelter that operated from 1888 until 2001, the town of East Helena, several residential subdivisions, and surrounding rural agricultural lands. For more than 100 years, lead and zinc smelting operations deposited lead, arsenic, copper, zinc, cadmium and some 15 other hazardous substances into the soil, surface water and groundwater of the Helena Valley. ASARCO shut the plant down on April 4, 2001. The shutdown has been characterized by ASARCO as temporary. Public access to the smelter is restricted .

About 1,800 to 2,000 people live within one and one half miles of the smelter complex and most of the residential properties within that area were, until a yard cleanup began in 1991, contaminated with lead above health-based concentrations. Approximately 180-200 residential yards and several hundred acres of undeveloped lands remain contaminated with lead to this day. Most of the area's residences are hooked up to a municipal or community water supply system.

ASARCO, the principal potentially responsible party, has cooperated with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in cleanups both on the plant site and in the adjoining community of East Helena.

Map of the East Helena Site

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Site Risk

The soils, surface water, and groundwater in and around the smelter are contaminated with lead, other heavy metals and arsenic. Lead is the contaminant of primary concern in soils. Arsenic is the contaminant of primary concern in groundwater. Contaminated groundwater does not pose a threat because it is not used for domestic water supply and there is no direct human contact. EPA's RCRA program recently found evidence of arsenic contamination at extremely high concentrations in the intermediate zone of the aquifer underlying East Helena.

The site was proposed for addition to EPA's Superfund National Priorities List in September 1983; listing became final one year later.

In 1984, EPA and ASARCO entered into an agreement, in which the company performed a preliminary investigation into site contamination. EPA, the State of Montana and ASARCO signed an agreement in 1988 to conduct additional investigations. In 1991, EPA and ASARCO signed a third agreement for the residential soils removal action.

Health advisories were issued in 1988 to area residents advising caution regarding disturbances of soil, dust in houses and their attics, and unwashed home-grown garden vegetables. Advisories also were issued concerning Wilson Irrigation Ditch, which was contaminated and passes through a number of yards and play fields. The ditch was cleaned up in1993 and no longer poses risks.

Media Affected Contaminants Source of Contamination
groundwater, sediment, surface water, soils lead, heavy metals and arsenic metals smelting and refining

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Cleanup Progress

In late 1989, EPA selected the remedy to reduce groundwater pollution from the process ponds at the site. The ponds were a source of inorganic contamination of soils and groundwater. The remedy included isolating the process waters from the groundwater by constructing steel storage tanks and replacing leaking equipment. The soils and pond sediments, contaminated by decades of seepage, were dug up and stored in an on-site landfill. Contaminated process water was treated by on-site co-precipitation technology. The remedy was completed in the fall of 1996, although disposal of cleanup residues became a RCRA concern.

EPA has completed three five-year reviews of site cleanup actions conducted under Superfund authorities. The residential soil cleanup is deemed protective. Although 160-170 properties are still eligible for a cleanup, no children reside at these properties. All properties with resident children were cleaned up first. After 1996-1997, if new families with children became owners or residents of otherwise eligible properties, those properties were immediately placed at the top of the list for cleanup. The process ponds cleanup, which was conducted while the smelter was still operating and with intentions of preventing further migration of contaminated groundwater away from the smelter site, is not deemed protective of the environment. Although there is no human contact with the contaminated groundwater, recent monitoring of wells demonstrates that the shallow—and possibly the intermediate—aquifer extending northwesterly away from the plant site, beneath East Helena, remains high in total arsenic. Additionally, recent surface water monitoring of Lower Lake demonstrates that both the water and bottom sediments are still high in metals and arsenic, despite the $3.5 million spent in the early 1990s specifically for a cleanup of Lower Lake.

In July 1991, ASARCO began a non-time-critical removal action to remove contaminated soils from residential areas, parks, playgrounds, streets and alleys. ASARCO conducted the majority of the cleanup from 1991 to 1996. The first five-year review also examined and ultimately determined that the removal action is protective of human health. The Record of Decision for the residential soils operable unit was issued in 2006, following a proposed plan.

Regular groundwater sampling revealed arsenic contamination well above drinking water standards in shallow monitoring wells. ASARCO has drilled additional groundwater wells to define the contamination. Any cleanup will likely occur as part of RCRA program activities.

EPA believes that the residential soils and Wilson Irrigation Ditch removal actions were necessary. These actions eliminated immediate sources of soil contamination. Community blood lead levels are now below the threshold of concern. Isolated cases, when they occur, are examined on an individual basis by Lewis and Clark County Health Department professionals, and are generally found to no longer be associated with yard soils.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Program

While Superfund has been the governing authority for cleanup of residential and agricultural soils, and surface water or surface water sources, the East Helena Smelter site itself was regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Program—RCRA—while it was operating. In January 1998, ASARCO and EPA agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement for alleged violations of RCRA and the Clean Water Act. The settlement also specified a Supplemental Environmental Program and an Environmental Management System for the smelter operation. Although the plant closed in April 2001, the corrective action under RCRA authority continues. RCRA will continue to be the governing authority for cleanup of the former plant site and groundwater. The most up-to-date information on the RCRA corrective action can be found at www.mtenvironmentaltrust.org. Exit

A bankruptcy reorganization of American Smelting and Refining Company LLC (ASARCO) resulted in EPA's claim regarding environmental cleanup being resolved in December 2009. Two settlements were reached by the United States with the debtor for this site.

  • ASARCO-owned properties, including the smelter, and groundwater contamination from smelter and related operations are transferred to a custodial trust (Montana Environmental Trust Group) and ASARCO will deposit $99,294,000 into a custodial trust account to be managed by the trustee.
  • $15,296,881 is available for cleanup of the non ASARCO-owned portions of the site.

View the press release.

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Community Involvement

Community involvement plays an important role in the Superfund process. EPA uses a number of different tools and resources to promote effective, on-going, meaningful community involvement. The goals of the Superfund community involvement program are to:

  • Keep communities affected by sites informed throughout the cleanup process.
  • Provide opportunities for communities to comment and offer their input about site cleanup plans.
  • Facilitate the resolution of community issues tied to a site.

Currently, ASARCO is funding a county-administered health education and abatement program, with health professionals stationed within the community and its schools. In spring 1999, EPA, ATSDR, the county, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and ASARCO reviewed the program's effectiveness using door to door surveys and other evaluation methods. A final report is available from the county health department. The program received high grades for its performance.

Since the program's inception in 1995, 1,400 individual lead-in-blood tests have been conducted. Fewer than three percent of the children tested during this period exhibited blood lead ratios greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter, and, since 1999, there has been a significant decrease in the number of children above the detection limit of 1 microgram per deciliter lead in blood. Of 39 children tested during the first quarter of 2003, no child tested greater than 4 micrograms per deciliter, and only one child was above the detection limit. Of 502 children tested from 2000-2004, 97 percent were at 4 micrograms per deciliter or below. Yet, prior to 1985, two-thirds of East Helena's children exhibited blood lead ratios greater than 10 micrograms per deciliter and one-third exhibited ratios greater than 15 micrograms per deciliter.

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Reuse

EPA places a high priority on land reuse as part of its Superfund response program mission. The agency tries to select cleanup options that encourage and support future use of a site. EPA uses two fundamental methods to facilitate reuse of Superfund sites:

  • Exploring future uses before the cleanup remedy is implemented, an approach that gives the Agency the best chance of designing cleanup remedies to support the likely future use of a site.
  • Working with landowners and communities to remove barriers not considered necessary for the protection of human health or the environment at those sites where remedies are already in place.

One option for reuse is the siting of clean and renewable energy projects on contaminated (or formerly contaminated) lands. As part of this effort, EPA is evaluating the potential for energy projects on these properties and working with landowners and communities to identify ways to remove barriers to such projects.

On May 24, 2011, we hosted a community planning charrette and open house to develop a vision for future redevelopment in East Helena, Montana. The charrette, a day-long planning workshop, provided a venue for community representatives and other key stakeholders to develop a preliminary vision, goals and priorities that can help shape and coordinate remediation, local planning and development at the East Helena Superfund Site. Defining Our Future: East Helena Redevelopment Initiative summarizes the outcomes from the community planning charrette and includes site background, future land use concepts, specific revitalization priorities and strategies, and recommended action steps. The resulting vision represents ideas from East Helena, Lewis and Clark County, community leaders and other interests and can help shape cleanup and future redevelopment processes.

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Land Use Controls and Other Institutional Controls

Land use controls are the most common type of institutional control (IC). ICs are administrative or legal controls that help reduce the likelihood for human exposure to contamination. ICs can also help protect the integrity of the remedy. Examples of ICs are:

  • Zoning ordinances.
  • Environmental covenants.
  • Deed notices.
  • Well-drilling restrictions.
  • Building permits.
  • Informational advisories.

As part of the site cleanup strategy, EPA continues working with interested parties at the East Helena site to develop a set of institutional controls. These controls will be administered by the local government and help protect public health and the environment into the future. Through training and several working sessions with representatives from the City of East Helena and Lewis and Clark County, EPA is facilitating the shaping of the land use controls so that they will be implementable and enforceable.

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Five-Year Reviews

EPA or the lead agency conducts five-year reviews following the start of a Superfund cleanup when contamination is left on the site. These reviews are repeated every five years. We use these reviews to determine:

  • How the remedy is working.
  • If the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment.

We completed the third five-year review in September 2011. It concludes that the remedy at OU1 (process ponds) is not protective because implementation of the Record of Decision is incomplete. Completion of the RCRA investigations, and identification and implementation of appropriate corrective actions, are needed to ensure protectiveness for this Operable Unit.

The remedy at OU2 (residential/agricultural lands) is under construction and is expected to be protective of human health and the environment upon completion. In the interim, exposure pathways that could result in unacceptable risks are being controlled.

You may read the report on the five-year review in the Site Documents section below or at the EPA office in Helena.

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Site Documents

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See the EPA's PDF page to learn more.

Note: Best way to open a very large file: right-click and save it to a folder.

Third Five-Year Review Report (PDF), September 2011 (67 pp, 10 MB)

Defining Our Future: East Helena Redevelopment Initiative, October 2011

Record of Decision for OU2 (Residential Soils and Undeveloped Lands) (PDF), September 2009 (165 pp, 3 MB)
 – Cost Tables
 – Sheet 1: Soil Response Action Locations
 – Sheet 2: 1995-2008 Child Blood Lead Screening Location Map
 – Sheet 3: 1995-2008 Child Blood Lead Screening Location Map (Children Screened More Than Once)
 – Part III: Responsiveness Summary
 – Appendix A: ASARCO Ownership Map
 – Appendix B: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Health Consultation
 – Appendix C: Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Requirements

Fact Sheet announcing proposed plan and Jan. 25th public meeting, January 2007

Proposed Plans for a Final Cleanup of East Helena's Residential Soils and Undeveloped Lands (OU2), January 2007

Record of Decision for OU1 (Process Ponds) (PDF), November 22, 1989 (55 pp, 116 K)


Site documents from May 1987

Assessment of the Toxicity of Copper, Mercury, Selenium, Silver and Thallium (PDF) (94 pp, 3.5 MB)

Assessment of the Toxicity of Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and Zinc (PDF) (219 pp, 8.5 MB)

Remedial Investigation of Soils, Vegetation and Livestock (PDF) (447 pp, 18.7 MB)

Remedial Investigation Report (PDF) (446 pp, 18 MB)

Toxicity Assessment I (PDF) (219 pp, 8.4 MB)

Toxicity Assessment II (PDF) (94 pp, 3.4 MB)

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Contacts

EPA

Betsy Burns
Remedial Project Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
Helena Office
Federal Building
10 West 15th Street, Suite 3200
Helena, MT 59626
406-457-5013
burns.betsy@epa.gov

Lewis and Clark County

Lead Education and Abatement Program (LEAP)
2 South Morton Street
P.O. Box 1231
East Helena, Montana 59635
406-457-8583

Program Administrators:
Jan Williams and Debb Tillo
406-227-8451
janwilliam@co.lewis-clark.mt.us
dtillo@co.lewis-clark.mt.us

View Documents at:

EPA Superfund Records Center
Montana Office
10 West 15th Street, Suite 3200
Helena, MT 59626
406-457-5046
866-457-2690 (toll free)
Hours: M-F, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

MDEQ

Daryl Reed
Superfund Project Officer
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
1100 North Last Chance Gulch
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620-0901
406-841-5041
800-246-8198 (toll free in-state only)
dreed@mt.gov

Denise Kirkpatrick
RCRA Project Officer
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
1100 North Last Chance Gulch
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620-09010
406-444-3983
800-246-8198 (toll free in-state only)
dkirkpatrick@mt.gov

Iver Johnson
RCRA Project Officer
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
1100 North Last Chance Gulch
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, MT 59620-0901
406-444-5852
800-246-8198 (toll free in-state only)
ijohnson@mt.gov

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Photo/Video Gallery

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Links

The following links exit the site Exit

Lewis and Clark County: Lead Education and Abatement Program

Montana Environmental Trust Group

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