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Thoughts on CFAC

| February 17, 2021 7:00 AM

As expected, the draft feasibility study for the cleanup of the former aluminum smelter site near Columbia Falls, Montana, calls for leaving hazardous materials on the property even though potliner contaminated with cyanide was required to be hauled away to an approved out-of-state hazardous waste landfill when the plant was operating.

The plan proposed by Roux Associates was presented to the public during a virtual CFAC Community Liaison Panel meeting.

The plan was completed in October 2020 and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality was reviewing it. Roux produced the plan for Glencore, the company actually responsible for the site, not the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co., which is a nearly nonexistent subsidiary of Glencore.

According to Forbes magazine, Glencore was ranked the tenth largest company on the Forbes Global 500 list in 2015 but ranked as the 484th-largest public company in the world by Forbes in 2020. Wastewater from the plant’s air pollution control wet scrubbers that contained fluoride was dumped in ponds north of the potlines until the plant went to a dry scrubber system in the 1970s.

Spent potliner contaminated with cyanide was dumped into an unapproved landfill north of the potlines from 1955 until the 1980s, when it was required to be hauled away to approved out-of-state landfills.

Spent potliner in unapproved landfills contaminate groundwater in closed aluminum smelter plants around the world, including in Spokane, Vancouver and Longview, Washington. Roux’s proposed plan calls for placing a new cap on the dangerous landfills and then encircling the leaking landfills and ponds with a wall made of slurry.

According to a Hungry Horse News story, a Roux spokesman that the slurry material “doesn’t degrade,” but the bottom of the main industrial landfill used since 1955 is not sealed at the bottom, and groundwater during spring runoff often rises higher than the bottom of the landfill. The spokesman did note that cyanide commonly degrades over time in sunlight but that some types “don’t degrade that much.” The main type of cyanide that doesn’t degrade is the type that is underground and not exposed to sunlight.

Taken altogether, the Roux plan does not ensure that the cyanide hazard will be contained or that it will go away anytime soon. EPA officials told virtual listeners that Roux’s feasibility plan is still a draft and the public will be able to comment on it when it’s released as a final plan perhaps as soon as fall 2021.

Richard Hanners

John Day Oregon