State officials are advising people to avoid eating all fish caught downstream after a train derailed June 24 near Red Point, when asphalt and molten sulfur spilled into the Yellowstone River potentially contaminating wildlife.
The advisory includes all fish caught from the Indian Fort fishing access site near Red Point to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel.
Elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs (some of which can cause cancer in humans) have been found in multiple fish species, warranting this advisory, the state’s Fish Consumption Advisory Board said in a news release. The Council consists of representatives from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP).
In August, the council issued a similar advisory limited to mountain whitefish. Since then, tests on longnose suckers, shorthead redhorse, rainbow trout, and brown trout have also shown elevated levels of PAHs.
Officials said they could not confirm the source of the contamination and would conduct further testing and sampling, including further downstream. Some PAHs occur naturally in the environment, especially in shale rocks common in the Yellowstone River Basin. Contaminants are also found in oil, gas, plastics and pesticides, which can include derailment as a possible source. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, PAHs are commonly released during asphalt paving.
During the cleanup, asphalt from the train was found downstream as far as Billings, more than 100 miles from the derailment site.
PAHs found in these fish include naphthalene, which is found in multiple species, and 1,2-methylnaphthalene and acenaphthylene, which are found only in mountain whitefish. Fish were collected 6.5 river miles upstream from the derailment site near Indian Fort FAS, and 6.2 river miles downstream from the Holmgren FAS.
The US Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have classified naphthalene, 1-methylnaphthalene, and 2-methylnaphthalene as potentially causing cancer in humans. The other two PAHs detected in fish tissue samples, phenanthrene and acenaphthene, are not classified as cancer-causing chemicals. Other health effects from consuming high levels of PAHs that have been shown in animal studies include effects on the digestive system, immune system, reproductive system, kidneys, and skin. These effects of eating fish have not been recorded in humans.
For more information about PAHs, including specific PAHs found in fish tissue samples, visit: www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/polycyclic-aromatic-hydrocarbons/health_effects.html (lnks.gd) .
Cleanup crews pulled 231,700 tons of asphalt from the river, just over half the estimated amount that spilled when the Twin Bridges Railroad Bridge collapsed while a Montana Railroad train was crossing. The cleanup stopped on Aug. 16 when officials identified three or fewer “workable asphalt areas” within 10 miles of the river. The end point of the cleanup was 136 miles downstream, just before the confluence with the Big Horn River.