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EPA cover-up or cleanup?

The Fort Hall Tribal Council has strong words for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order (UAO) to begin cleanup at the old FMC plant.

The Tribes are upset because the soil at FMC is contaminated by elemental phosphorus, toxic metals and radionuclides. The groundwater is contaminated with arsenic, along with heavy metals.

So the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes are saying the plan is a literal cover-up – that capping the contaminated soil doesn’t fix the problem.

They say Fort Hall is the only home they know, and they were guaranteed this land by the United States government.

Tribal leaders say the government is not living up to that agreement by allowing the health and safety of everyone on and around the reservation to be placed in jeopardy.

“We feel the EPA is a part of the United States government and they have that trust responsibility to look out for our general welfare,” said Nathan Small, chairman of the Fort Hall Business Council.

The question is whether the plan for treating the ground soil and water will stop the contamination. The EPA and FMC both say it will.

“That remedial action,” said Paul Yochum, FMC Spokesperson and former plant manager, “That cleanup plan, is protective in offering safety and health to the public, and also to the environment.”

The plan calls for treating the contaminated groundwater and soil to prevent it from moving toward the Portneuf River.

They want to begin construction of the caps next year, and have it complete within two to three years. The project will cost $60 million, paid for by FMC.

The Tribes also wants the soil contaminated with elemental phosphorus dug up.

They specifically address 22 railroad cars buried under the slag at FMC. They say these should be removed, along with the soil contaminated with elemental phosphorus.

But FMC says that’s incredibly dangerous.

“If you expose elemental phosphorus to the air, it would ignite,” said Yochum. It would violently ignite.”

Something that happened in Florida in 2006, releasing a plume of toxic gas.

The Tribes says they are just fighting for a cleaner future.

“So all of these children here, it’s going to be left in their lifetime to deal with,” said Small. “It’s going to be left to their children and to their grandchildren, and beyond.”

With the caps, there will be a cover between the exposed soil and the new soil they will put on top.

That means no rainwater can push down on the contaminated soil and water. So FMC and the EPA say these steps will contain the problem.

Another concern for the tribes is the possibility of redeveloping the land.

The EPA hopes with the caps installed, natural grasses will begin to grow. Power County Development Authority can then market the property.

For more information about this issue, click the links below.

Click here for EPA history with this FMC site.

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