East Helena to receive $40 million for remediation efforts

Smelter site.jpg
Posted at 6:11 PM, Feb 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-28 12:23:02-05

HELENA — This Tuesday, the EPA announced that East Helena will be the recipient of $40 million that will go towards residential lead clean-up efforts.

“A lot of residents of East Helena who felt that their yards were excluded or left out from clean-up efforts previously, we just want to say, we’re coming back, and we are here to help,” says Community Involvement Coordinator with the EPA, Mackenzie Meter.

This announcement comes shortly after the implementation in January of a lower threshold of parts per million (ppm) of lead in soil after the finalization of an Explanation of Significant Differences document. This document amended the 2009 Record of Decision to reduce soil-lead cleanup levels in East Helena from 500 PPM to 400 PPM. The ESD also removed the previous cleanup trigger of 1,000 ppm.

What this means is that the EPA has lowered the threshold of lead in soil in East Helena.

This means that many residential yards that were not eligible for cleanup now will be, bringing an updated level of safety to the area, says Meter.

“Gardens will be safer, yards, yard areas, playgrounds will be safer for families and for people who live, work, and play here in the community,” says Meter.

In order to help move along the remediation of the area due to the impact of the ASARCO smelter site, the EPA has designated $40 million in funding for East Helena as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Meter says this money will provide clean-up help to those previously left without such assistance.

“This money and EPA are here to help clean up your yards, make your lives better, improve property values,” says Meter.

Kelly Harris, Mayor of East Helena, says his government’s primary concern and focus is on the citizens of East Helena and that they plan to support the EPA in any way they can.

“From the city’s perspective, we’re just excited that the EPA and the federal entities involved are continuing to show concern and respect for our citizens. We think it’s a beautiful place to live and a beautiful place to raise a family and have kids,” says Harris.

Beth Norberg, an Environmental Health Specialist for Lewis and Clark Public Health, works with the Lead Education and Assistance Program (LEAP) alongside the EPA to get people tested for lead exposure. LEAP also does soil permitting for properties in the Superfund site.

“We are in a federal Superfund area. There are health effects of lead and arsenic. We know that here in this boundary. And so, again, it’s just a way to protect yourself,” says Norberg.

On March 11, at East Helena City Hall, the EPA will hold a Q+A about timelines, use of funds, who will do the cleanup, and more.