For 34 years, the community of Butte has been the focal point for the nation’s largest complex of Superfund sites, with environmental damage identified and remedial activities undertaken from the East Ridge and the hills north of town downstream to the Milltown Dam above Missoula, 120 miles and beyond. For 34 years, literally hundreds of millions of cleanup dollars have been invested by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by the primary responsible party, BP-ARCO.  In that time, extensive documented improvements have been achieved in reducing the toxicity, mobility, and availability of heavy metals and other contaminants related to Butte’s mining past.  Technical reports, presentations, and data files abound showing this progress.

Yet in the view of many people in Butte—as well as around the state—nothing’s been done to solve Superfund-related problems; in their eyes the state, federal, and local government agencies and corporate responsible parties have abandoned the city to its damaged past; have left the water poisoned; have not reduced environmentally-related health problems; and have left Butte essentially an unhealthy place to live, start a business, or raise a family. To these people, science, engineering, and public agencies responsible for protecting them have failed them. The proposed project will deploy a research partnership of university and community-based resources to explore this gap between documented achievements in environmental health and public perceptions of environmental health risks. Key partners to university scholars will be Butte Citizens Technical Environmental Committee (CTEC) and Butte Department of Public Health.

As a pilot project, the study will collect and organize preliminary data about changes in environmental health and the remedial actions undertaken under Superfund in the 30+ years since Butte was declared a Superfund site; it will also develop documentary evidence of public perceptions and attitudes about environmental health and about Superfund activities. Building on this historical record, the project partners will conduct extensive surveys within the community seeking to collect a comprehensive view of the range of knowledge, opinion, perception, and experience about environmental health issues among a full spectrum of the Butte citizenry. The surveys will focus especially on youth, low-income, and other underrepresented demographics, whose voices are rarely heard or heeded in these discussions.

This study will coordinate with two other ongoing cyclic health studies, a five-year study by EPA about heavy metals, and a three-year community health assessment by St James Healthcare and Butte Health Department. The proposed project will explore issues that lie outside the mandates of the other two studies.

Specific Aims

Aim 1: Develop a comprehensive array of Superfund remedial actions undertaken in the Butte Area since the mid-1980s

Aim 2: Conduct a multi-layered, recursive exploration of community perceptions, experiences, and attitudes about public health issues among populations affected by these Superfund sites

Aim 3: Analyze the survey data to understand the current perspectives, opinions, attitudes, and experiences of Butte residents regarding the state of environmental health risks in the community

Primary Contact

Raja Nagisetty rnagisetty@mtech.edu