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Dioxins, heavy metals found at Frenchtown Smurfit-Stone site

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FRENCHTOWN, Mont. - A contaminated site in Frenchtown moves one step closer to cleanup.

Community members and local stakeholders learned the results of several months of EPA and DEQ testing at the former Smurfit-Stone mill in Frenchtown.

The company M2Green now owns the land. The property has long been criticized for contamination, with talk of marking it as a Superfund site.

EPA and DEQ testing yielded a mixed bag of results.

The mill is divided into three sections for testing: OU1, the surrounding agriculture land; OU2, the wastewater areas; and OU3, the mill itself.

Remedial project manager for the EPA Sara Sparks said at Tuesday's meeting remedial investigating and sampling on the top 2 inches of soil revealed there is no air contamination coming from the mill.

However, environmental officials say they found low levels of dioxins, PCP and heavy metals deeper underground in sections OU2 and OU3.

Officials say OU1 did not yield any alarming results of contamination and has therefore been removed from the list for further testing.

As far as cleanup goes, the EPA says it needs to conduct more tests to know exactly what contaminants they are dealing with in order to move forward with a plan for cleanup.

The process costs time and money, but Frenchtown residents say they are tired of waiting and want results.

"I think it's taken too long for them to do what they're doing. There's enough people here tonight to go out and clean it up themselves, much less talking about it," said Frenchtown resident Stan Lucier.

"The (mill is) impacting wildlife, and it begs the question when will it start to impact human health?" added community council spokeswoman Jen Harrington.

Harrington says she is also concerned about contamination to the nearby Clark Fork River. She says she's concerned if the berms between the site and the river are holding up to contain the contaminated material. Sparks says the EPA checked the berms and indicated they are sturdy and remain fully effective.

The EPA hopes to complete all remedial testing by the end of 2017. Sparks says once the investigation is complete, officials will be able to determine how bad the site is and how to move forward.

Sparks says the site does not have to be listed as a Superfund to continue testing.

They say any potential cleanup is still several years out.

Some residents and community members at Tuesday's meeting indicated the site used to be a waste dump for asbestos abatement companies. Sparks confirmed this claim and said the companies she knew of had a DEQ permit.

On top of the contamination, current owner M2Green owes Missoula County more than $680,000 in unpaid property taxes.

Frenchtown residents say the unpaid bills on such a large piece of land are putting the burden on the rest of the community. Residents say the unpaid taxes are especially hurting Frenchtown School District, which is still paying off bonds for a new building built in 2009.

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