Investigation of Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. site continues
By SAM WILSON
Daily Inter Lake
As part of its ongoing investigation into contamination at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. Superfund site, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to release initial test results from water and soil samples this week.
About a year and a half after the former aluminum reduction plant’s parent company, Glencore, announced it would not re-open the shuttered facility, the EPA officially listed the 960-acre site on the National Priorities List last September.
Previous sampling by the federal agency has found evidence of toxic contaminants in groundwater on and around the property.
One of the main pollutants at the site is spent potliner, a federally listed hazardous waste produced during the aluminum smelting process. According to the EPA, the material is known to contain cyanide compounds, and other potential contaminants at the site include heavy metals, organic compounds, hydrocarbons, PCBs and pesticides.
Water-quality samples taken in 2013 from a domestic well near the Aluminum City neighborhood and from one north of the CFAC property also contained trace amounts of cyanide, but at concentrations below the agency’s maximum allowable levels.
Following last year’s Superfund designation, Roux Associates, Inc., an Oregon-based company hired by CFAC to assist with the cleanup plan, began an initial round of testing, taking samples of ground and surface water, soils and river sediments.
“They should be coming out sometime this week,” Mike Cirian, the EPA project manager, said Monday. The results are only in draft form, but based on the agency’s preliminary review of the results, Cirian added, “I can tell you there were no red flags, nothing that jumped out at us. We haven’t seen anything we didn’t already know about.”
The information is part of a comprehensive site investigation which will provide a framework for eventual cleanup activities. Cirian said the agency plans to hold public meetings to explain the findings and answer residents’ questions in April, although no dates have been set.
The remedial investigation phase is expected to continue until 2020, with a “feasibility study” outlining possible cleanup approaches due in 2021.
Last week, the EPA released a draft of its “community involvement plan” for the Superfund site, to keep potentially affected residents and local officials updated as the investigation, planning and cleanup phases continue. The draft plan’s release follows months of meetings between agency officials and community groups, residents and government partners since the site was added to the National Priorities List last year.
In the report, the agency states that it will continue working with those members of the community to present updates and new information on the cleanup project. It will also house reports, documents and other information online at www.epa.gov/superfund/columbia-falls.
Physical copies of documents related to the Superfund site can be found at the Columbia Falls ImagineIF Library at 130 6th Street.
Those interested in getting updates on the work can also follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The report also states that all major decisions are made, the agency will hold public-comment periods to solicit suggestions and additional information, as it did when first it first recommended establishing a Superfund site at the former aluminum reduction plant in March 2015.
Quarterly updates from the agency will include new information on the ongoing Superfund processes as well as updates for any upcoming public meetings or comment periods.
Community members are encouraged to contact Cirian or Robert Moler, the agency’s community involvement coordinator, with any questions or suggestions. Cirian can be reached at 406-293-6194 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Moler can be reached at (406) 457-5032 or by email at email@example.com.
Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.