Federal officials have issued a warning stating that fish from the Yellowstone River should not be consumed due to high levels of toxic chemicals. This announcement comes two months after a train derailment in June that caused concern for the safety of the river’s water and its inhabitants.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) declared that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found in multiple fish species in the river. These chemicals, including naphthalene and acenaphthylene, are classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as cancer-causing agents. While the source of the toxins is still unknown, MFWP advised that all fish in the river should not be consumed, even beyond their initial advisory area.
In response to the high levels of PAHs, the EPA has declared a consumption advisory for all fish species in the Yellowstone River from the Indian Fort Fishing Access Site to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel. This is a larger area than the initial emergency closure enacted in June, which only spanned from Reed Point to Columbus.
The source of the PAHs remains unknown, despite the train derailment in June. However, the EPA notes that these chemicals can occur naturally in the environment, such as in shale rock, and can also be introduced by human activities, like oil and gas production, plastics, and pesticides.
The train derailment in June occurred when 10 cars, carrying materials such as asphalt and molten sulfur, fell into the Yellowstone River. While the cause of the incident is still unknown, the EPA reported that the spill did not pose a threat to public health. However, the recent discovery of high levels of PAHs in the river has raised concerns about the safety of the water and its inhabitants.
Local cleanup efforts have been ongoing since the derailment, with crews targeting areas where asphalt, the primary pollutant, can be safely removed without causing significant damage to the environment. The EPA reported that over 230,000 pounds of asphalt have been removed so far, out of an estimated 419,400 pounds.
This is not the first time that a consumption advisory has been issued for fish in the Yellowstone River. In August, elevated levels of another PAH, phenanthrene, were found in mountain whitefish. While phenanthrene was not detected in the more recent sampling, this new advisory is much more sweeping, affecting all fish species in the river.
The EPA has stated that there are no immediate threats to public health from the spill, but it is important for individuals to avoid consuming any fish from the Yellowstone River at this time. They also advise caution for those living near the river, as the effects of the PAHs on the environment and human health are still unknown.
Cleanup efforts will continue and the EPA will monitor the situation closely. In the meantime, it is important for the public to heed the consumption advisory and avoid consuming any fish from the Yellowstone River until further notice.