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Agencies differ on opinion

by Alan Lewis Gerstenecker
| July 12, 2013 1:40 PM

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is on the cusp of letting Troy deal with its three-year-old massive wood debris pile. However, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality says not so fast.

A draft letter from Bill Murray, program director of the Superfund Remedial Program for the EPA, states during activity-based sampling of wood chipping at the site, levels of amphibole Libby asbestos were at or below levels of non-detect. While the letter stops just short of giving the green light to begin a chipping program until there is further dialogue, the DEQ says it’s not quite ready to allow Troy to deal with the pile.

“The DEQ’s mission is to protect people’s health and the environment,” said John Podolinsky, of the DEQ. “No, I don’t think the (DEQ) policy is contradictory, I think it’s more conservative (than that of the EPA).”

For weeks, Troy Commissioner Ron Downey has anticipated a letter from the EPA that will give the county the green light to deal with the 70-yard by 50-yard by 15-foot high debris pile, preferably by chipping. Downey, citing the expense of chipping and transporting to another site, prefers to burn it.

However, during a separate report on the effects of a wildfire at the W.R. Grace Mine site, EPA OU-3 Mine Site Manager Christina Progess said a 5,000-acre a day fire for three days at the mines would not produce significant risk to downwind communities.

That does seem contradictory,” Downey said. Downey and County Environmental Health Director Kathi Hooper have balked at chipping because of the expense.

“I’d rather burn it,” Downey said. “If there’s no problem with a fire at the mine, this is non-detect. It can’t be that bad.”

Presiding Commissioner Tony Berget called the minesite “a worst-case scenario” and if the effects of airborne asbestos in smoke are insignificant, it seems like the county should be able to burn the debris pile.

“Sometimes, the agencies (EPA and DEQ) don’t always seem to be on the same page,” Berget said.

County Health Department Attorney Allen Payne said the simple act of chipping — which is the EPA preference — is, in his opinion, among the greatest ways to spread airborne asbestos.

Berget, Downey, Eureka Commissioner Mike Cole and Podolinsky tentatively will take the issue to DEQ headquarters in Helena on July 29.

“This has been going on way too long,” Downey said.