MISSOULA, Mont. - With a month left for public comment on a proposal to list the old Smurfit-Stone mill land as a Superfund site, a prominent river conservation group is pushing for Superfund designation.
The Clark Fork Coalition wants a complete scientific sampling of the entire 3,200 acres.
The Environmental Protection Agency found cancer-causing contaminants on about 40 acres of the now shuttered paper mill. EPA has proposed the entire Frenchtown site be designated.
The Clark Fork Coalition's science director, Christine Brick, said the contaminants found at the old Smurfit mill are among our most dangerous of toxins. The Ph.D. scientist said they can affect human reproduction and damage the immune system.
EPA took samples from the soil, ground water and river sediment in sludge ponds, some landfills and one waste water pond.
Brick said it's all too close to the Clark Fork River.
"We may be one big flood away from washing all of that out and downstream to people who live along the river in Frenchtown," said Brick.
The president of the Illinois redevelopment company that bought the old mill said most of the ponds where toxins were found aren't in the floodplain.
M2Green's Ray Stillwell said, "We identify with the coalition's goals in doing the right thing. But we differ on method and government intervention."
M2 Green wants to do its own cleanup.
Brick said that most of the ponds in the floodplain have not been sampled. She said they know Superfunds work. The polluters pay the bill.
"It could be redeveloped into something productive." said Brick. "There could be new industries out there. I don't think that will happen without Superfund cleanup."
But M2 Green's Stillwell said, "I challenge anyone to say a Superfund listing would not create a stigma that would depress job creation."
Brick thinks Superfund designation could help redevelopment with contaminated areas getting cleanup attention and clean spots getting a green light.