Tourists visiting the historic copper smelter in Anaconda, Mont., have been buying bags of smelter waste as souvenirs, EPA’s inspector general reported Nov. 18.
More than 40 million tons of the waste, a smelting byproduct also known as slag, sit in a pile less than a mile from Anaconda’s welcome sign.
The town and much of the surrounding area became a Superfund site in 1983, shortly after the copper smelter ceased operating. Selling the Superfund site’s slag as souvenirs may put the public at risk for exposure to its toxic contents, which include arsenic and lead, the inspector general said.
The inspector general alerted the Environmental Protection Agency to the unapproved practice on Nov. 18.
The agency’s regional office “recently became aware” of the sales, an EPA spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We share the [inspector general’s] concerns and will continue to coordinate with the [inspector general] and state and local partners to notify the public on the safe handling and disposal of bags sold as souvenirs.”
The inspector general discovered the sale of slag as souvenirs while conducting an ongoing audit of the EPA’s communications with the public at Superfund sites.
As part of the EPA’s cleanup plan for the Anaconda Smelter Superfund site, the slag pile is off-limits to the public. Trespassers have been bypassing the site’s fencing and security measures to collect the slag, EPA personnel found. The inspector general has asked the agency’s regional authority to create and distribute fact sheets to inform the public of the risks of lead and arsenic exposure and how to dispose of the slag.