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Thoughts on CFAC

| May 3, 2021 6:05 AM

During their April 19, 2021, meeting the Columbia Falls City Council received a 24-page slide presentation from Glencore’s environmental consultant Roux and their subsidiary Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. explaining their rationale for choosing a remediation solution for the uncontrolled groundwater pollution at the former CFAC aluminum smelter site.

Roux and CFAC came up with seven alternatives ranging from no action to excavation and removal of waste in the large unlined industrial landfill used to dispose of spent potliner from 1955 to 1985. This landfill currently leaks cyanide into groundwater, which can seasonally rise above the bottom of the unlined landfill. Roux and CFAC recommend Alternative 4A, which calls for building a slurry wall around the landfill and capping it. They rejected Alternative 6, which calls for excavating thousands of tons of hazardous contaminants that were irresponsibly dumped in this landfill and hauling the waste to an approved disposal site, probably out of state.

On page 10 of the presentation, Roux and CFAC claim that “Offsite transport of waste would have adverse impacts on affected communities” and that “Other options would protect human health and the environment and achieve applicable rules without community disruption.”

CFAC shipped contaminated

spent potliner to out-of-state landfills from 1985 to when the smelter closed 24 years later without causing negative impacts to communities.

Roux and CFAC’s incredible claim, which needs to be explained and proven, is further used on page 14, which provides a chart with seven criteria for scoring each of the seven alternatives – the highest score wins.

Unbelievably, the excavation and removal alternative received only 37 points. The next lowest (excluding no action) was 60 and the selected alternative received 77 total points. While excavation and removal received the highest score for “long-term effectiveness and permanence,” it received the lowest score for “short-term effectiveness” with only 5 points compared to 16 for the selected alternative. Excavation and removal also received 0 points for cost compared to 14 for the selected alternative, and 0 points for “implementability” compared to 15 for the selected alternative.

This presentation might work in a cheap magic show, but the people in Columbia Falls and Montana are smarter than that. Take the criteria of short-term effectiveness and implementability – the positive impact on groundwater would be immediate (unless the project is further delayed by Glencore), and digging up waste and putting it into rail cars can’t be any more complicated than constructing a giant slurry wall around the landfill. The people of Columbia Falls and Montana need to push Glencore for a detailed and reasonable explanation of these bizarre conclusions.

How can Roux and CFAC score implementability at zero? Because they can’t figure out how to excavate and remove waste from a landfill? It’s easier to understand why they scored the excavation and removal alternative at zero under the cost criteria – it’s expensive, and that’s the key point to understanding their process. The real decision maker is Glencore, a notorious commodities trading company based in Switzerland that wants to save money.

Luckily for the people of Columbia Falls and Montana, the CFAC site was declared a Superfund site, despite the opposition of a lone congressman and some county leaders. So the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will help decide how this site will be cleaned up. These agencies need to be lobbied by concerned local parties, along with Sen. Jon Tester.

Richard Hanners

John Day, Oregon

Editor’s note: Hanners was a former electrician at the plant.