Superfund Site May be Affected by Superior Wildfire - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Superfund Site May be Affected by Superior Wildfire

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SUPERIOR -

Superior made headlines across Montana this summer when the West Mullan fire scorched nearly 6,300 acres north of the small town.

Now, in the aftermath of the wildfire, federal agencies have picked back up on the Superfund cleanup of Iron Mountain Mine tailings north of Superior, which was put on hold during fire season.

In 2000, Montana Department of Environmental Quality officials said mudslides in the area washed contaminants in mine tailings into Flat Creek, and after 2013 fire season, officials say there's potential for more contamination.

DEQ officials are still working on a risk assessment for the area, but they said there's a chance the West Mullan fire will cause more debris flows over the next several years.

"People should use common sense if they are recreating there, and to limit their exposure," said Daryl Reed of the DEQ.

DEQ officials said the West Mullan fire burned over a ridge and into the Flat Creek drainage area, but it never reached the upper portion, where most of the tailings are found along the creek.

"Because of that, we don't anticipate that there will be as much impact from potential debris flows and things like that."

DEQ officials said the mine tailings are leftover material from ore processing at the Iron Mountain Mine in the late 1800s, which contain toxic levels of lead and arsenic.

State and federal agencies have been working on a two-part cleanup of the mine tailings. The first was the EPA cleanup of contaminants in residential areas.

Environmental Protection Agency On-Scene Coordinator Duc Nguyen said they haul the tailings to a repository site north of town, where they're dumped into a cell 20 feet above groundwater, and buried under an evaporative cap.

"So, basically, no water is going to be in contact with contaminated soil," Nguyen said.

Nguyen said they've cleaned up nearly 80 properties in town, and will complete the residential cleanup by the end of this month.

Now that cleanup is nearly complete in the Superior residential area, DEQ officials said they can turn their attention to the Flat Creek watershed, an area scarred by the West Mullan fire.

The DEQ and the forest service are heading up cleanup efforts in the drainage area, and they'll likely haul contaminants to the EPA repository site.

EPA officials said the contaminants won't affect human health unless they're somehow inhaled or consumed.

"I don't think people are going to be exposed to the contamination, because the tailings have been sitting along the Flat Creek drainage for many years.

EPA officials said they normally work through the summer on the Superior Superfund cleanup, but this year the West Mullan fire forced them to hold off until September.

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