Year of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Department or School/College
Interdisciplinary Studies Program
Holly Peterson, Bob Ziegler, Janet Finn, Gregory Campbell
Environmental Epidemiology, Environmental History, Mining Culture, Mining Literature, Superfund
University of Montana
Butte is a small town in southwest Montana that was profoundly shaped by over a century of mining and smelting activities. Today, Butte is a post-industrial city that is the focal point of America's largest Superfund site as well as the nation's largest National Historic District. There are two types of remediation occurring in Butte: environmental and cultural. Environmental remediation occurs throughout the city, most notably at the operable units of the Butte Superfund sites. This remediation does not restore the environment to its original state but instead reclaims it to a level of risk deemed acceptable by the EPA. Much like environmental remediation, community members practice acts of reclaiming history, landscape, and community. These are acts of cultural reclamation.
To understand the current interrelationship between the environment, health, and culture in Butte, it is first necessary to understand the cultural foundations. Butte is a mining town that practices mining culture. A mining culture has several characteristics: physical and/or cultural isolation; pride in resilience, toughness, and craftsmanship; strong sense of community and kin networks; distrust of institutions, politics, and positions of power; historic pride and romanticizing the past; and gender division. These cultural values are at the core of Butte's culture and heritage. These values are a basis for historic preservationists who oppose environmental remediation and promote the preservation of the historic mining landscape. This is in sharp contrast to the environmental groups that promote environmental remediation and cite elevated risk levels and potential health effects in their reasoning.
Debate about risk levels and the consequences of living in a toxic landscape do not provide answers regarding health issues, however. The community does not track disease rates and has never performed a longitudinal epidemiology study. By remaining unaware of disease rates, the community and those in positions of power are left with only opinions. As a remedy, this study set out to investigate mortality rates in Butte and compare them to the state of Montana and the United States.
This study showed that the majority of the mortality rates in Butte are greater than the state of Montana and United States rates for all disease groups, and that mortality rates fluctuate over time but are consistently elevated. It also showed that mortality rates correlate with the target systems of concern. It did not show a clear reduction in mortality rates after remediation. Several diseases, such as neurological disease, did decrease after remediation, and this potentially correlates to the extensive lead abatement program in the city.
Barry, Stacie Lynn, "COMING TO THE SURFACE: THE ENVIRONMENT, HEALTH, AND CULTURE IN BUTTE, MONTANA" (2012). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 210.
© Copyright 2012 Stacie Lynn Barry