HELENA – The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) submitted a formal request today to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to redesignate the air quality status of East Helena surrounding the former ASARCO lead smelter.
The change will bring the area into attainment status with National Ambient Air Quality Standards for sulfur dioxide and lead. EPA designated the area as non-compliant for these contaminants in March 1979 and November 1991, respectively.
While smelter emissions initially caused the area’s air quality issues, emission controls at the facility brought the area into compliance prior to the facility’s closure in 2001.
“ASARCO had already done a lot to reduce pollution, which brought the area back into compliance, and following the closure of the facility there have been no other sources contributing to air quality issues,” said DEQ Air Quality Bureau Chief Dave Klemp. “DEQ has gathered and analyzed data for multiple years to make this determination, and the science demonstrates this re-designation is warranted.”
The area will remain under a maintenance plan to ensure environmental protection into the future.
“In addition to the innate value of clean air, attainment status can aid economic development because regulatory requirements for industry in non-attainment areas are more stringent and potentially burdensome to ensure that already-compromised air quality is not further impacted,” said DEQ Air, Energy and Mining Administrator Chris Dorrington.
“While still protective of the environment, the new status will make it easier for new businesses to operate in the East Helena community,” said Dorrington. “This action demonstrates that following the laws to ensure a clean environment can be balanced with economic development in Montana.”