EPA explains aluminum-plant study

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The Flathead Basin Commission got an update Wednesday on an Environmental Protection Agency assessment of the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. property.

A regional director for the EPA recently announced that the agency would conduct an assessment of the property in response to a letter from Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester.

The Democratic senators had made efforts for several years to get Glencore, a multinational company that owns CFAC, to reopen the plant that was shuttered in 2009. Getting no signal that would happen, the senators asked the EPA to evaluate the site to determine if it should be part of the agency’s Superfund program.

“What is a concern now is what is buried on that property,” said Virginia Sloan, Tester’s area field representative.

The property was assessed by the EPA in 1986 and 1988 and the upcoming assessment will be carried out under new agency protocols. CFAC opened in 1955 but after it was sold in 1985, strict rules were implemented to properly dispose of waste off-site.

Some of the pollutants believed to be present on the property include alumina, aluminum fluoride, soda ash, petroleum coke, pitch, anthracite coal and carbon waste.

The assessment could get underway this spring and is expected to take about a year to complete, said Julie Dalsoglio, an EPA representative who attended the basin commission meeting in Kalispell.

Dalsoglio explained that assessment would result in a scoring process that will determine whether it qualifies for the EPA’s Superfund program.

She said if a cleanup is initiated, past and present owners of the property would be approached through the agency’s enforcement program to cover the costs of the assessment and cleanup.

But if past owners cannot be identified, cleanup costs would be covered by the agency’s Superfund program.

Sloan said the EPA has pledged to work closely with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Columbia Falls Community as the assessment is carried out.

“I hope there is a very robust transparency for the public to be involved in that process,” Sloan said.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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