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East Helena was founded on mining support industries. One of its largest employers became the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). The plant polluted the surrounding area with lead, arsenic, and other hazardous substances. Courtesy of the Montana Historical Society Research Center via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

Historically, Montana’s natural resources have formed the basis of its economy. Mining brought in secondary industries like smelters, cement plants, construction, utilities, heavy equipment, and transportation. Unfortunately, these industries damaged the environment. Many Anaconda Mining Company ventures, including the smelters in Black Eagle and Anaconda, along with the Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area, were named Superfund (or abandoned hazardous waste) cleanup sites in the early 1980s by the Environmental Protection Agency. Libby was named a Superfund site because of asbestos mining, while East Helena earned the same designation because of the smelting conducted there by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). Environmental abuses, such as the Berkeley Pit, had a major impact on Montana's 1972 Constitution, which features very strong legal language granting its citizens the right to a clean and healthful environment.

Montana's mining sector transformed its cultural and political history. The Copper Kings’ money influenced state politics heavily and even the location of the capital city. Women, who were allowed to file mining claims and hold their own property, helped Montana elect the first woman to Congress, Jeannette Rankin, in 1916. Jobs drew people to Montana who built and diversified its communities.