Year of Award


Document Type

Professional Paper

Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Robin Saha

Commitee Members

Assistant Professor Lyn Macgregor, Professor Vicki Watson


Anaconda Copper Mining Company, ARCO, British Petroleum, citizen participation, citizens group, community organizing, environmental justice, stigma, Superfund


University of Montana


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The community of Opportunity, Montana, is surrounded by an area many consider to be the largest Superfund site in the United States. The nearby Opportunity Ponds is a major consolidation area for mining-related contaminated wastes in the state of Montana, and Opportunity residents have voiced concerns about their well water, windblown dust, and other issues since at least the late 1990s. Furthermore, the community has been subjected to ongoing environmental injustices: they feel they have been left to bear an unfair environmental burden without compensation and feel left out of important decision-making processes that affect them. I have positioned myself as a research consultant to the Opportunity Citizens Protection Association (OCPA), a community-based non-profit citizens group in Opportunity, Montana. In June 2006, I conducted a qualitative study by interviewing a total of 21 Opportunity residents in three focus group sessions. These participants represented 17 different households, which accounted for 7% of the total households in the community. The objective of the study was to gather information intended to give the community a voice and to help OCPA achieve its goals by encouraging greater community participation and more effectively representing the community on Superfund-related issues. By providing this information to OCPA, this study will help the community overcome the environmental injustices it faces. Traditional qualitative methods were used to analyze the interview data, and five main theme categories emerged: Health, ARCO-BP’s Role, OCPA Organization, Lack of Information, and Stigma. Under the theme of Health, participants expressed worry about personal and public health and raised concerns about the prevalence and types of illnesses present in the community. Several people suggested a health study be conducted. As far as contaminants of concern, participants considered beryllium to be most threatening because of its health effects being perceived as immediate and lethal. Regarding dust, participants were divided as to whether they considered it a health concern or not. When considering potential drinking water contamination as a health concern, the majority of participants felt the water was currently safe to drink and preferred to stay with their private well and monitor the water. The vast majority were opposed to installing a public water system as a preventive measure. Under the theme of ARCO-BP’s Role, the majority of participants expressed distrust of ARCO-BP, especially concerning its soil and water testing methods. There was consensus that ARCO-BP was responsible for the mining-related contamination; therefore, participants felt the company should be required to compensate the affected community. Numerous participants believed ARCO-BP should provide annual or biennial well water testing for residents indefinitely to safeguard against future threats of water contamination. Furthermore, participants expressed that they felt ARCO-BP has ignored them and their role in decision-making processes that have affected Opportunity. Additionally, participants felt the company has been inadequate in some aspects of maintenance at Opportunity Ponds and suggested actions to remedy this. The most popular suggestion involved ARCO-BP alleviating the dust by only working with a small section of contaminated material at a time and capping it before continuing with another section. Lastly, several participants expressed concern regarding ARCO-BP’s method of transporting contaminated materials in uncovered train cars. Under the theme of OCPA Organization, participants expressed opinions of OCPA as a citizens group. While participants were appreciative of the organization’s efforts, the majority were not interested in participating because the group was perceived as being confrontational, argumentative, one-sided, and selective about membership. They felt that stro



© Copyright 2007 Kathleen A. Hasenbank