Community Context and Challenges

  • Nearly 30% of the county’s children live in poverty, compared to 20% in Montana.

  • Groundwater contaminated with the byproducts of copper mining and smelting continues to seep closer to the water table that the community relies on.

  • Mine waste contamination directly correlates to cancers of the lungs, bladder, kidney, and liver, as well as autoimmune diseases, tissue damage to the respiratory system, and neurological damage.

  • Public opinion has long been at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cleanup methods, which include a controversial “waste in place” strategy.

  • Butte-Silver Bow residents struggle with high rates of emotional and behavioral health problems; between 2011 and 2013, the county had a much higher number of emergency room visits for injury from intentional self-harm than the state (197 cases per 100,000 versus 105 per 100,000).

Community Actions: A First Look

County residents maintain hope for a Butte-Silver Bow that more closely resembles what it once was: the pride of the Rocky Mountains.

With larger scale environmental cleanup efforts on the horizon, residents, local organizations, schools, and county and state departments are united in their commitment and efforts to make Butte-Silver Bow a thriving community once more.

These baseline reports, created in 2016, reflect our initial observations on select community programs and initiatives to gauge ongoing, as well as newer, efforts to improve community health. Future reports will provide more in-depth insights and analysis into this community's activities.

Going Forward: Questions for Consideration

From Berkeley Pit to the steel elevator towers throughout town to the dust in their attics, Butte-Silver Bow residents know how deeply ingrained their mining past is in their community and their families’ lives. The county’s future, its freedom from copper’s poisoned environmental legacy, and thus its health, depend on continued community involvement, successful decontamination efforts, collaborative partnerships, and the outcome of EPA’s pending consent decree. Additional surveillance, data and information gathering, and analysis will examine some of the ways in which Butte-Silver Bow is navigating collaborations and meaningful cross-sectoral action to improve its community’s health.

The following questions could provide insights into the degree to which meaningful change is taking place and can be sustained:

  • In what ways can residents engage more fully in the Superfund efforts, through educational seminars, public forums, or other?

  • Would the community embrace and benefit from a central agency to better coordinate resources and programs aimed at improving public health outcomes? How should such a resource be established?

  • In what ways is the mining industry currently contributing to the community (e.g., economically, socially), and how can these contributions be expanded or encouraged?

  • To what extent have Butte-Silver Bow’s suicide prevention programs affected awareness, suicide rates, and other related outcomes?

  • What steps has Butte-Silver Bow taken to diversify its economy to improve the median income of its residents?

  • What is the long-term plan for attracting tourism to Butte-Silver Bow?