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This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under Science, Technology, and Society award 0646731. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

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Project Overview

For more than a century, copper smelting and mining activities of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company polluted air, land, and water in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin of western Montana with arsenic, heavy metals, and acid mine waste. Today, this region is the largest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund area in the United States, with three major contiguous sites taking in one of Montana's largest cities (Butte), several smaller towns (Anaconda and Deer Lodge), a huge toxic lake (Berkeley Pit), a major dam site (Milltown/Bonner), and about 150 river miles. The public and political process of selecting remedies for these Superfund sites is over: the Record of Decision is in for all sites and public comment/participation in the decisions has ended.

Map of the Upper Clark Fork River Basin (outline map of Connecticut shown for comparison)

The scope and diversity of this complex of Superfund sites provided an ideal case study of how society and science/technology (technoscience) shapes environmental remedies. This project focused on the selection of remedies at several key sites within the project area. It described and assessed the role of activist scientists, grassroots organizations, nature, and local culture in the negotiation of closure—i.e. an EPA Superfund remedy specified in a Record of Decision. As theoretical tools, the study primarily used the social history of science and actor-network analysis to examine this closure process. Information came from participant interviews, an examination of the public record of comment, agency archives, and press coverage. Comparison of historical documents with interviews provided a good historical sense of how the issues and actors have changed over time.

Though Superfund was originally intended as a technocratic approach to remedy a legacy of pollution from America's industrial age, selecting particular remedies quickly became a social process in which the EPA, legally responsible corporate parties, grass roots environmental organizations, the general public, and the environment itself all played a role.


As Principal Investigator, I thank the following persons:

Pat Munday
Professor of Science & Technology Studies
Montana Tech