BUTTE – The EPA has made cleanup of mine contamination a priority in Butte. Part of that includes studying how this contamination affects human health.
“Years and years of mining contributed to dust in the older homes in the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit,” said Butte Health Department Director Karen Sullivan.
The EPA and health officials responded with an abatement program to systematic remove these harmful elements from homes and soils.
“We go into homes and clean out attic dust and we go into yards and sample soil. So if we find lead, mostly, but arsenic or mercury, we’ll go up to the point where we’ll remove the soil from the yard and replace it with new sod,” Sullivan said.
The EPA is in the process of a new health study to be released next summer to monitor the community’s health. The first study results from five years ago showed the process appears to be working.
“And that study concluded that the blood/lead levels of children living in the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit had declined to the point they were equivalent to the blood/lead levels of children living on the Flats,” Sullivan said.
Health officials point out that there are other factors including economic and the social stigma of living in a Superfund site that could lead to other health complications.
“Our children are affected by being labeled a “children of a dirty water” town. Does that have a psychological impact? And the whole economic impact. Do people have good paying jobs or are we missing out because of our Superfund stigma? Are we effected in ways that could ultimately affect our health,” she said.
Part of the study will include a committee dedicated to environmental justice to see how these factors play in human health.