Libby Ground Water Contamination
National Priorities List (NPL) History
Site Type: Final NPL
Street Address: 1119 & 1415 Dakota
Zip Code: 59923
EPA ID: MTD980502736
Site Aliases: None
Congressional District: At Large
Updated July 2010
The fourth five-year review, completed in March 2010, concluded that the remedies in place are not protective of human health and the environment—the standard set by EPA to judge if new or different actions should be considered at a site. This does not mean that progress isn’t occurring; it does mean that further or different actions are needed to clean up the site and continue to protect the health of Libby residents and the environment.
The five-year review includes the following actions:
- The City of Libby and the EPA will initiate public awareness programs about the risks of using existing wells or installing new wells.
- The City of Libby’s ordinance prohibiting new wells will be expanded to include the Stimson mill property.
- Soil and groundwater cleanup levels will be reevaluated in light of new guidance.
- New cleanup technologies will be evaluated for the upper aquifer.
Additional field work will be performed and samples will be collected to better identify the contaminant source area and to further evaluate the effectiveness of the groundwater remedy.
Recently the City of Libby accepted a monetary settlement from International Paper to compensate for any financial burden associated with the groundwater contamination.
The Libby Groundwater Superfund Site is located on the western edge of Libby, Montana. Approximately 11,000 people live in Libby and the surrounding areas. The site is bordered by Flower Creek, Libby Creek and the Kootenai River.
The Libby Groundwater site is actually part of the Kootenai Industrial Park, which itself is an operable unit of the Libby Asbestos Superfund Site.
Map of the Libby Groundwater Superfund Site boundaries (PDF, 1 pg, 446K)
This site was part of a lumber and plywood mill and was used for treating wood with creosote, pentachlorophenol (commonly referred to as PCP), and other chemicals between 1946 and 1969. In 1979, contamination of well water with PCP at a nearby residence was first discovered. The site was added to the National Priorities List in 1983. Cleanup at the site began in 1986 and is ongoing.
Between 1946 and 1969, wood treating fluids were disposed of and spilled at several different locations on the grounds of the former Champion lumber and plywood mill in Libby. Waste water and tank bottom sludges from the wood-treating fluid tanks periodically were removed and hauled to waste pits.
In 1979, shortly after private wells were installed, some area homeowners smelled a creosote odor in their water. EPA identified contaminated groundwater and soil. The contaminated soil is within the confines of the facility; however, groundwater contamination extends into Libby.
Groundwater is contaminated with PCP, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals. Soils contain PCP, PAHs and, to a lesser extent, dioxins. People who touch or accidentally swallow the soil or water from private wells may be exposed to contamination and health risks.
EPA added the Libby Groundwater Contamination site to its National Priorities List in September 1983. Two Records of Decision (RODs) direct three stages of work agreed to by Champion: an initial action and two long-term phases. The latter phases focus on cleanup of the groundwater, and cleanup of the soil, lower aquifer and source control.
|Media Affected||Contaminants||Source of Contamination|
|groundwater, sediment, surface water, soils||PCP, PAHs and heavy metals||wood and paper Industry|
The potentially responsible party, International Paper, paid to connect residential well users to the municipal water supply, and paid well owners for metered water. In the past few years, International Paper has arranged closure of the wells and settled final payments with the majority of property owners. International Paper has completed construction of land treatment units and facilities to treat soil and groundwater.
Alternate water supply
One of the first actions taken was to reduce exposure to contaminated drinking water by encouraging residents to use Libby’s public water system for drinking, household use and irrigation. Champion, a former owner of the site, initiated the Buy Water Plan to encourage residents who were impacted or potentially impacted by off-site contamination to obtain their water from Libby’s public water system and allow Champion to cap and lock their private water wells. To date, 45 wells have been permanently sealed and disabled as part of the Buy Water Plan. The City of Libby also enacted an ordinance that prohibits the installation of new water wells within city limits.
Unfortunately, these measures are not functioning as intended. Due to recent drought conditions, some residents may have installed new wells or may be using wells that had been sealed. In addition, some of the affected area is not within the City of Libby and not subject to the city’s restriction of the drilling of new wells. One of the potentially contaminated areas outside of the City of Libby is currently being considered for redevelopment.
Soil and groundwater cleanup
45,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil have been excavated and biologically treated to reduce the concentration of dangerous compounds. The final disposal location of the soil will be the Land Treatment Unit, which is located on-site and is routinely monitored for protectiveness.
The groundwater remediation system uses three extraction wells to remove oily liquids and contaminated groundwater from the upper aquifer. The oily liquids are separated from the groundwater in two oil/water separators, and the groundwater is treated in a system that uses added nutrients to enhance the ability of bacteria to degrade the contaminants. The groundwater in the upper and lower aquifers at selected on-site and off-site wells is monitored and reported annually according to an EPA-approved plan.
While we are making progress and cleaning up soils and groundwater, the progress has not been as fast as we would like. The soil cleanup is working as planned, and will take three to five more years to complete. This is consistent with expectations given the quantity of soil being treated, contaminant levels and the cleanup levels to be achieved. The upper aquifer groundwater cleanup goals have also not been achieved; this is not unexpected given the level of contamination and the cleanup strategy employed. To date, the system has removed about 14,400 pounds of contaminants. In addition, toxicity factors that determine what levels of exposures to these contaminants are allowable have changed.
Community involvement plays an important role in the Superfund process. EPA uses a number of different tools and resources to promote effective, on-going, meaningful community involvement. The goals of the Superfund community involvement program are to:
- Keep communities affected by sites informed throughout the cleanup process
- Provide opportunities for communities to comment and offer their input about site cleanup plans
- Facilitate the resolution of community issues tied to a site
As a result of the most recent five-year review (see What’s New? above), EPA and the City of Libby will initiate a new public awareness campaign explaining the risks of using existing wells and installing new wells. This site has not been in the public eye recently, partly because the adjacent Libby Asbestos Superfund Site garners so much attention, so the public will need to be re-familiarized with the potential risks and what they can do about it.
EPA places a high priority on land reuse as part of its Superfund response program mission. The Agency tries to select cleanup options that encourage and support future use of a site. We use two fundamental methods to facilitate reuse of Superfund sites:
- Exploring future uses before the cleanup remedy is implemented, an approach that gives the Agency the best chance of designing cleanup remedies to support the likely future use of a site
- Working with landowners and communities to remove barriers not considered necessary for the protection of human health or the environment at those sites where remedies are already in place
One option for reuse is the siting of clean and renewable energy projects on contaminated (or formerly contaminated) lands. As part of this effort, EPA is evaluating the potential for energy projects on these properties and working with landowners and communities to identify ways to remove barriers to such projects.
EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality are working with the businesses and officials of the Kootenai Industrial Park to make reuse of the area a reality.
Land Use Controls and Other Institutional Controls
Land use controls are the most common type of institutional control (IC). ICs are administrative or legal controls that help reduce the likelihood for human exposure to contamination. ICs can also help protect the integrity of the remedy. Examples of ICs are:
- Zoning ordinances
- Environmental covenants
- Deed notices
- Well-drilling restrictions
- Building permits
- Informational advisories
City of Libby Ordinance 1353 , which was enacted in October 1986, prohibits the installation of new water supply wells within the city limits and is currently in effect and is enforced. Ordinance 1353 was subsequently re-numbered and is now Chapter 13.68 “Restrictions On Use of Groundwater” in the Libby Municipal Code. Additional restrictions on groundwater use will be sought through a controlled groundwater use area designation if necessary. (See the Links section for a link to the Libby Municipal Code.)
EPA or the lead agency conducts five-year reviews following the start of a Superfund cleanup when contamination is left on the site. These reviews are repeated every five years. We use these reviews to determine:
- How the remedy is working
- If the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment
The site’s fourth five-year review has just been completed. The next five-year review will be completed by March 29, 2015.
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Annual Update to the Five-Year Review, January 2011 (PDF, 5 pp, 68K)
Fourth Five-Year Review, March 29, 2010 (PDF, 122 pp, 4.2MB)
OU2 Explanation of Significant Differences, January 22, 1997 (PDF, 13 pp, 29K)
OU2 Explanation of Significant Differences, September 14, 1993 (PDF, 11 pp, 123K)
OU2 Record of Decision, December 30, 1988 (PDF, 50 pp, 115K)
OU1 Record of Decision, September 26, 1986 (PDF, 37 pp, 70K)
City of Libby Ordinance 1353 prohibiting the installation of new water supply wells within the City of Libby, issued October 20, 1986 (PDF, 2 pp, 279K)
View Documents at:
Lincoln County Department of Environmental Health
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Click on a thumbnail below to view the full size image.
Aerial view of Libby Groundwater site
Bio-remediation land farm
Bio-remediation filtration system