In a battle for truth in a small Montana mining town, newly revealed records show how the EPA sided with polluters.

by Wilson Criscione, InvestigateWest

As she drove into Butte, Montana, six years ago to visit her son, environmental epidemiologist Suzanne McDermott couldn’t ignore the gouged-out mountain that loomed over the town.

It’s the result of decades of open-pit mining that continues to this day in Butte. McDermott was stunned at how close the mining pits were to homes and businesses. In town, she noticed parked cars with a film of dust that looked as if ash had fallen from a fire. Her son, who worked for the local newspaper, later told her of children who had developed mysterious ailments in Butte.

Vista of Butte Montana

“It just struck me that there’s something very unhealthy going on here,” said McDermott, a professor at City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

Butte, a once-booming city, is home to a massive Superfund site overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Past mining has polluted the soil and water in and around Butte, and when Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) abandoned the mine in 1982, it left a pit that’s since filled with water so toxic that it kills flocks of birds that land on it.

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