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People advised to stop eating any fish from Yellowstone River near site of derailment

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People advised to stop eating any fish from Yellowstone River near site of derailment

Sep 25, 2023 | 6:38 pm ET
By Blair Miller
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People advised to stop eating any fish from Yellowstone River near site of derailment
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The reconstructed bridge near Reed Point on July 24, 2023, which was the site of a Montana Rail Link train derailment and bridge collapse on June 27. (Photo courtesy Unified Command)

Montana wildlife and environmental officials last week issued an advisory telling people not to consume any fish taken from the Yellowstone River for several miles up- and downstream of the site of the train derailment and chemical spill that happened in June near Reed Point.

Additionally, officials said because trout species that live in the river migrate seasonally and it is unclear exactly how prevalent the contamination is in the river, people might “out of an abundance of precaution” avoid eating any fish out of any section of the river until more is known.

The consumption advisory applies to all fish caught on the river between the Indian Fort Fishing Access Site down to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel. After initial testing earlier this summer found chemicals in whitefish in the area, the Fish Consumption Advisory Board advised people to stop consuming those fish.

Further investigation found polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in various species of fish tested up- and downstream of the chemical spill, and cancer-causing chemicals in whitefish, according to the state. The new testing did not turn up any fish with the chemical initially found in the whitefish earlier this summer, however.

The derailment sent 419,442 pounds of liquid asphalt material into the river near Reed Point. As of earlier this month, crews had recovered about 55% of it, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The state of Montana said the source of the PAHs discovered in fish in the river is unknown and could be difficult to figure out, as some of them occur naturally in the area. But the same PAHs can also be found in oil, gas, plastic and pesticides, according to the EPA.

The state said that Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the Department of Environmental Quality, and Department of Public Health and Human Services are discussing another round of sampling even further up- and downstream from the derailment site “to determine the potential contamination source and long-term guidance.”