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EPA official offers reassurances on integrity of Smurfit berms in Missoula

Posted at 9:10 PM, May 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-25 23:10:33-04

MISSOULA – The Environmental Protection Agency is offering reassurances about the integrity of the berms along the old Smurfit Stone mill site, saying the structures appear to be weathering the high waters on the Clark Fork River.

However, the agency is also committed to sampling for toxins getting into the river and coming up with a long-term contingency plan for dealing with a berm failure.

There’s been increasing concerns this week that heavy metals and other contaminants from the mill’s old “cooling ponds” could be getting into the river. Missoula County and the Clark Fork Coalition fear signs of groundwater “boils” inside the berms, and tannin-colored water along the river channel could be signs of a leak.

The EPA has collected samples which could take a couple of weeks to process, but the agency’s on-scene coordinator says he’s not seeing any evidence the berms are failing.

“Where the water is impacting, just the stability of it," the EPA’s Marty McComb said. "You know, I can’t guarantee Mother Nature isn’t strong. But, it’s just, you don’t see big signs of some big failures going on. And you can, ‘he’s going to see it’. But I think if we saw something like that we’d be really worried.”

McComb says the repairs completed by contractors working for the mill site’s owners last weekend appear to have stopped any mixing of the water along the berm at the southwest corner of the cooling ponds.