By MELANIE MOORE
FORT HALL — The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are mounting a campaign to challenge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan for the former FMC site of the Eastern Michaud Flats Superfund site, which lies largely within the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.
The campaign, launched Monday, is aimed at informing the public of EPA's proposed changes to the final cleanup decision and encourages the public to get involved in the process.
The cleanup plan—costing an estimated $60 million—currently calls for capping areas with reactive and ignitable waste and gamma radiation in an effort to reduce groundwater contamination. A new part of the plan calls for groundwater to be pumped and treated at the perimeter of the property to reduce contaminants that will go into the groundwater, the Portneuf River and eventually the American Falls Reservoir.
"This is a very large and complex Superfund site," said Lori Cohen, EPA Region-10 Superfund deputy director. "We believe it is very important to address the cleanup at this site."
But the plan is not enough for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, who say the capping of hazardous waste without removing or treating it does not adequately protect public health or the environment.
"We cannot see how capping addresses groundwater," said Laverne Beech, the Tribes' public affairs manager. "The path of the groundwater goes directly to the Fort Hall bottoms area."
She said treating the groundwater only removes 28 percent of arsenic and only 50 percent of other contaminants in the water—water that would eventually reach the Portneuf River.
The Tribes are asking the EPA to study the feasibility of treating and removing elemental phosphorus from the soil in areas with the highest concentrations of elemental phosphorus deposits to reduce contamination of the groundwater. The highest concentrations are believed to be below the former furnace building where elemental phosphorus was converted from a gas to a liquid. The Tribes suggest the EPA implement a pilot treatment project at the site.
"We want to see it cleaned up, not covered up," Beech said.
But the EPA says there is no existing solution to address the scope of the contamination at the FMC site.
"We have studied the site for a number of years," Cohen said. "There is no way—that we know of—to safely treat and remove the materials at the site." The largest concern for removal is the potential for explosive or reactive materials below the surface, she said.
Cohen said the site will continue to be monitored long-term, and that capping the site is what occurs when there is no safe alternative to removing the waste. But she said they can revisit their decision if new technology becomes available to treat or remove the waste.
"We do, over time, monitor and re-assess remedies," Cohen said. "We were unable to find a technology that would be safe."
Public comment on the revised cleanup plan for the FMC Operable Unit will be accepted until Oct. 26. Two public hearings will include an informational presentation, followed by a short question and answer session, and ending with public testimony recorded by a court reporter.
The first will be Oct. 12 at the Fort Hall Tribal Council Chambers and Auditorium on Pima Drive and Bannock Avenue. An informational meeting and open house will be from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and from 5-6 p.m. A public hearing with recorded comments will be from 6:15-9 p.m.
A second meeting will be Oct. 13 in the Chubbuck City Council Chambers, 5160 Yellowstone Ave., with an informational meeting and open house from 5-6 p.m. and public hearing with recorded comments from 6:15-9 p.m.
Comments can also be mailed to Chris Bellovary, US EPA Region 10, ECL-113, 1200 Sixth Ave, Suite 900, Seattle, WA 98101-3723 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org . Please put "FMC Proposed Plan" in the subject line.
For more information about the site, visit EPA’s Eastern Michaud Flats Superfund Site website go.usa.gov/iTC. A website created by the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes with information about the site is www.eastidahocleanup.org .