The investigation into the scope of contamination at the 960-acre aluminum plant property on the outskirts of Columbia Falls is still in the early stages but has already cost millions of dollars.
Columbia Falls Aluminum Company, an LLC owned by Swiss commodities firm Glencore, has paid nearly $4 million to cover a wide range of expenses at the site, including the drilling and installation of monitoring wells and reimbursements to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
John Stroiazzo, CFAC project manager, said the company has gone “above and beyond” in its pledge to pay for costs associated with investigating the property, which is entering its second year on the federal Superfund program’s National Priorities List.
CFAC recently sent $302,326 to the EPA to reimburse the federal agency for governmental costs associated with overseeing the investigation.
“The payment is the first reimbursement to the government under the agreement which assures that CFAC and not the government or taxpayers will pay the costs necessary to assess the site,” the company said in a news release.
Separate from the reimbursement, CFAC has spent approximately $3.4 million on the remedial investigation, according to Stroiazzo. The costs include roughly $1 million to install more than 40 monitoring wells to test for contaminants. The company has also paid Roux Associates, a New York-based environmental consulting firm, to conduct four rounds of seasonal sampling, testing groundwater, surface water, soil and sediment throughout the property.
The investigation, which will determine the level of contamination at the property and clarify any cleanup needs, began in 2015 and is expected to continue into 2021. The first phase of sampling and monitoring was completed in late 2016.
Roux Associates will continue sampling for the next two years to collect comprehensive data to help give the EPA a clearer understanding of the entire property and its level of contamination.
Results from four sampling rounds have identified a few specific locations as the primary source of contamination. The highest concentrations of cyanide and fluoride have been observed in and around the west landfill, also known as the west scrubber sludge landfill, and the center landfill. Varying amounts of contamination have been identified flowing in the groundwater down gradient from those landfills, moving south toward the Flathead River. The concentrations near the river are well below the EPA-mandated benchmark, Roux officials say.
The surface water samples identified two “low level detections” in Cedar Creek on the west side of the property during the first and second rounds of sampling, Roux officials say.
CFAC agreed to reimburse the federal agency for its costs, including 56 percent of indirect costs, to oversee the investigation.
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